One state agency, one employee, two paychecks.

What's up with that?

Apparently it was becoming routine in California state agencies — until someone started asking questions.

The state calls them "additional appointments." For most people, it's just moonlighting. It's not unusual, especially in these difficult economic times. But it is unusual, and at best questionable, to have more than one job on the public payroll.

The practice came to light first at the California Public Employees Retirement System, the state's pension program. According to the Sacramento Bee, beginning in June 2011, at least 56 salaried managers also received hourly wages for a second position on the CalPERS payroll.

Faced with questions about the payments, CalPERS suspended the practice. First, however, agency officials offered a defense: Moonlighting isn't unusual in state government. CalPERS pointed at four other agencies as proof, the Bee reported. The paper started examining employment records and found moonlighting at 11 agencies.

All told, 571 state employees held down more than one job last month.

For their primary jobs, many of these employees held management positions with fixed salaries and no overtime pay. Some others had supervisory positions, with hourly wages and restrictions on overtime pay. Their second positions were jobs paying hourly wages.

At CalPERS, staff managers logged hours as technicians working on a computer project.

In the Corrections Department, the Bee said about 75 lieutenants also held lower-level jobs such as sergeant or correctional officer. Some medical employees with salaries exceeding $10,000 a month also had second positions.

At Napa State Hospital, a chief psychiatrist whose base pay is $23,000 a month was moonlighting as a staff psychiatrist, a position paying $125 an hour. Altogether, about 170 state hospital employees, including unit supervisors, had second jobs.

The state Department of Human Resources has ordered a moratorium on moonlighting, and at least one bill banning the practice has been introduced in the Assembly.

CalPERS officials say they saved money by allowing managers to earn extra pay by helping to install and de-bug a new computer system, and the Human Services Department said its review will consider potential cost savings.

It doesn't take any review to see several problems with the practice of "additional appointments."

For starters, it looks like a way around rules limiting overtime pay to hourly employees. Managers are supposed to receive additional time off, and some agencies also offer bonuses for working extreme hours.

Allowing some people to take a second job invites special treatment and favoritism, much like the unauthorized buy-back of vacation time exposed last year at the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

Finally, as legal experts told the Bee, the practice might violate federal labor law, and it could invite lawsuits. It certainly does nothing to enhance public trust, too much of which already has been squandered in Sacramento.