NJ lawmakers fiddle as double-dipping burns state pension fund
GETTING TO WORK: New Jersey lawmakers have failed to propose any legislation that would curb double-dipping into the state public pension fund.
By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
As the New Jersey Legislature scrambles to pass laws as its session ends, lawmakers are ignoring a double-dipping dilemma that costs state pension funds and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
None of the 90-plus bills scheduled for votes by Jan. 13 would curb double-dipping — a controversial practice that allows officials to “retire,” then return to public jobs to receive both salary and retirement pay.
Instead of pension reform, the last-minute legislative push in Trenton includes:
- Vanity Cold War “victory medals” for undecorated New Jersey military veterans, costing up to $19 million.
- A proposal to allow gas stations to charge credit card customers more than those who pay with cash — but prohibit all other merchants from doing the same.
- A resolution urging the U.S. government not to deport aliens to the Philippines in the wake of a typhoon last year, 8,500 miles from New Jersey.
While legislators fiddle, a $47-billion deficit in the state retirement system continues to burn a hole in New Jersey’s fiscal future.
During the past two years, New Jersey Watchdog investigations of double-dipping have found:
- Eighty State Police retirees returned to jobs on New Jersey’s payroll. They receive nearly $5.8 million a year in state pensions plus $7 million in state salaries.
- Forty-five retired school superintendents were employed as interim chiefs during the past school year, collecting more than $4 million a year from pensions plus executive pay from school districts.
- Seventeen county sheriffs and 29 undersheriffs are also double-dipping. The 46 officers rake in $3.4 million as retired cops plus $4.9 million in salaries.
- The staffs of state and county prosecutors include 125 law enforcement retirees — including 23 who work as supervisors and investigators for the Attorney General’s Office. Together, they pocket $8.6 million from pensions plus $9.9 million in salaries.
- Double-dippers work in a variety of other state jobs, including Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff.
Even disability retirees — who receive pensions because they supposedly cannot work — find ways to return to the public payroll for a double-shot of income at taxpayers’ expense.
“You just can’t afford to do this stuff — you can’t,” state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, told New Jersey Watchdog.
Beck said Treasury officials claim they’ve never counted the number of double-dippers or how much it drains from pension funds.
“They couldn’t answer it for me,” she said.
What’s known is that double-dipping encourages hundreds of officials, possibly thousands, to retire early — often in their 40s or early 50s. They are able to collect tens of millions of dollars a year from state pensions long before they quit working.
A bill co-sponsored by Beck, S-601, would stop most double-dipping. It would suspend pension payments to retirees who return to public jobs paying more than $15,000 a year. The retirement benefits would resume when they permanently leave public employment.
“The pension system is intended to support you at a time when you are no longer working,” said Beck. “We’re not going to be able to afford to allow people to collect a pension while working full time.”
But reform attempts have been blocked by 18 double-dipping state legislators and their sympathetic colleagues.
The biggest beneficiary is state Sen. Fred Madden, D-Washington, who receives nearly a quarter-million dollars a year — $85,272 from his state police pension, $111,578 as dean of a police academy at Gloucester County College and $49,000 as a legislator.
“Obviously I don’t have a problem with people doing it,” said Madden.
Not surprisingly, S-601 has been trapped in the Senate’s State Government Committee since it was first introduced in February 2011 by Beck and state Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sparta.
A companion bill in the Assembly, A-860 , has suffered a similar fate. Since May 2011, the measure has been unable to escape the Assembly’s State Government Committee.
If not enacted by Jan. 13, the bills will expire as the 215th Legislature ends, but the underlying pension crisis will remain.
“Let them vote no,” Beck said. “This will be front and center in a short matter of time … after pressure grows on state government to meet our obligation.”
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