BIG SCOOP – New Jersey still serves double-dips under Gov. Chris Christie
By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
Start spreading the news: New Jersey is a paradise for double-dippers compared to neighboring New York.
New York State’s efforts to control double-dipping – by “retired” public officials who collect pensions while continuing to work in government jobs – are highlighted in a study released this week by the Empire Center, a non-profit think tank based in Albany.
While the Garden State is not mentioned in the report, a further analysis by New Jersey Watchdog reveals significant differences in how the two states approach the double-dipping dilemma. Here’s how they compare:
New York law requires its state and local government agencies to formally certify an “urgent need” for rehiring the retired workers. As part of a Section 211 waiver, officials must declare there are “no available, qualified non-retirees” who can fill the open positions, which must be publicly advertised.
New Jersey governmental units can generally hire back retirees without any justification or legal restrictions. Special paperwork and approvals are not needed – and in some instances, workers can return to the public payrolls the day after they retire.
In New York, 665 retirees are currently working at public jobs with waivers, according to the Empire Center report.
Meanwhile, New Jersey officials do not track the hundreds – and likely thousands – of working retirees who receive both governmental pensions and salaries.
Three years ago, Treasury officials informed the State Legislature it had “no estimate” of how many workers were double-dipping or how much it was costing the New Jersey pension system. The issue surfaced while legislative staffers were trying to evaluate a reform bill that never passed.
In spite of that lack of state data, New Jersey Watchdog investigations have revealed widespread double-dipping by public officials:
- Of 60 prominent double-dippers in the executive branch, 19 were hired under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie. The list included Lou Goetting, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, who collected $228,860 a year — $140,000 in salary plus $88,860 in pension – before he resigned last month.
- Three-fourths of New Jersey sheriffs — elected in 16 of the state’s 21 counties — collect pensions as law enforcement retirees in addition to their six-figure salaries. Their payrolls include 33 undersheriffs who also double-dip. Overall, those 49 top county cops rake in $9.1 million a year – $3.8 million in retirement pay plus $5.3 million in salaries.
- Forty-five retired superintendents used a loophole in pension law to return to work as interim school district chiefs. They cashed more than $4 million a year worth of pension checks in addition to their executive pay.
- Eighty New Jersey State Police retirees returned the payroll as full-time state employees. Collectively, they raked in $12.8 million a year – nearly $7 million in salaries plus $5.8 million from pensions.
- County prosecutors packed their staffs with 125 law enforcement retirees who raked in $18.5 million a year — $8.6 million from pensions and $9.9 million in salaries.
- Eighteen New Jersey state lawmakers received $782,000 a year from public pensions in addition to their legislative pay. At the top of the list is Sen. Fred Madden, who rakes in $248,082 a year — $49,000 as a state legislator, $85,272 as a State Police retiree and $113,810 as dean of law and justice of Rowan College at Gloucester County.
What’s similar in New York and New Jersey is incentives that reward early retirements and double-dipping while draining money from pension funds.
“The system encourages government workers to retire even if they want to continue working for employers who need or value their services,” said Tim Hoefer, Empire Center’s executive director.
The biggest difference: New Jersey has no mechanism to require that retirees are rehired in the best interest of taxpayers – and not just to fatten the wallets of officials who game public pensions.