The News of Cumberland County ran an editorial on the subject of pension reform, especially where it has to do with double-dipping.
News reporter Lauren Taniguchi has written stories the last two Sundays about public employees retiring, collecting pensions and then getting new public jobs. Labeled “double-dipping” by critics, the practice amounts to two hefty public paychecks for many of these individuals.
It’s a practice our state cannot afford and one that should be ended.
It was just last year that Christie and the Legislature tackled pension reforms that included increasing employee contributions, restricting cost-of-living adjustments and delaying retirement eligibility for future public pensioners. These reforms put the pension system on a more stable financial footing and ensured retirees will actually receive their pensions for many years to come. Without these reforms, the system faced collapse in the not-too-distant future.
A watchdog group brought attention to this new double-dipping issue by specifically focussing (sic) on retired state and municipal police employees who find new jobs with county prosecutor’s offices.
Where do we begin with fixing this issue?
It’s unrealistic — and unfair — to suggest retroactively penalizing those currently receiving these deals. Let’s remember, all of this is perfectly legal. No public employees are breaking the law.
The state Legislature can, however, put an end to future employees receiving similar deals.
Some sort of mechanism is needed that would halt pension payments if a retiree secures a new, full-time public position. Once the employee actually retires, pension payments would resume. If that doesn’t work, then reduce the new salary to take into account that this employee is already receiving a public pension.
There are many issues at stake. A person can be in the pension system for their entire life as apart-time employee, then work three years full-time to collect an enhanced pension. A pension should be based solely on the amount paid in, not on the last three years employment.
Contractors that are not even public employees retire on public pensions – and that, in my opinion, is outright theft. I am ashamed that Chris Christie refused to sign a bill that would have corrected this egregious policy.
But the truth of the matter is that most public employees do not enjoy the inflated pension numbers that you have seen in our reports. According to Politifact New Jersey:
…the average annual pension for “new retirees” — people who had retired within the previous year — was $30,199 for state workers and $20,075 for local workers.
The problem with New Jersey’s pension system isn’t retirees taking a second job per se. Somebody taking home a $20K a year pension might need to take a job at WalMart simply to pay New Jersey’s outrageous property taxes. The problem is political cronyism – politicians appointing hacks into jobs for three years so that they can sit pretty during retirement, at the public’s expense. The inflated $60K and $70K are for political appointees, people that worked and massaged the system.
The editors of the News are correct in that it would be improper to go after existing pensions and pensioners retroactively, they are doing nothing illegal. However, changes have to be made, and the first area of attack should be to eliminate ALL political patronage from the system.