Christmas is coming early - courtesy of Georgia taxpayers - for 13 high-ranking State Patrol bureaucrats. Although they're still years away from retirement age, they're being turned out to pasture, with Gov. Zell Miller's blessing, with benefits that nearly match their generous salaries, plus insurance and health coverage.
This is a package most Georgians would envy, but few will like paying for. While the state strains to make savings in Medicaid, welfare reform and other social programs, the most senior (and notorious) member of the "Lucky 13," Lt. Col. Stock Coleman, at age 49 will get more than $79,000 a year to do nothing. (Coleman, brother of state House Appropriations Chairman Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, was implicated in a ticket-fixing scandal but slithered away scot-free.)
Two reasons are given for the golden parachutes. First is the law that permits persons working for the state before April 1, 1972, to collect full pensions and benefits even if they haven't worked the required 34 years it takes to qualify for the pensions.
This is ridiculous - and it's not the first time taxpayers have been snake-bit by the policy. It points up the need for the General Assembly to refocus on pension reform next year.
The second reason, lamely explained by State Patrol Col. Sid Miles, is that the force is streamlining and, considering the bureaucrats' high ranks, there just aren't any appropriate management jobs open to them.
"We shouldn't create jobs just to keep people around," chimes in Gov. Miller. No argument about that, but since they're going to be paid a huge salary anyway, we're convinced there's something they can do to earn it - a desk job, public relations, outreach programs, whatever.
Griff Doyle of the watchdog Georgia Public Policy Foundation speaks for angry taxpayers when he says, "It's a horrible law ... an outrage that people in the prime of their careers are going to get paid to do nothing."
Here's some advice for Miles: If he can't find something constructive for these managers to do to earn their goodies, then the Patrol commander better not promote anyone to a high-level job any time soon.