Six state Senators representing Monmouth and Oceans Counties have written to New Jersey’s U.S. Senators and Members of Congress asking for help in correcting inequities and inefficiencies in the federal government’s response to Superstorm Sanday.
In a letter dated March 31, Senators Jennifer Beck and Joe Kyrillos of Monmouth County, Robert Singer, Christopher Connors and James Holzapfel of Ocean County and Sam Thompson of Middlesex raised six issues concerning Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Small Business Administration (SBA), FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation(RREM) grant program.
With all those agencies and initials, how could anything be going wrong?
Since he “retired” at age 48 nearly a decade ago, Madden has cashed $770,156 in New Jersey retirement checks. Among the 15 legislators who draw state pensions, no one pockets more than the senator from the state’s 4th Legislative District, which includes parts of Gloucester and Camden counties. (See chart below.)
It may madden taxpayers, but double-dipping practices by public officials generally are legal under state law.
“There are those who have an issue with people retiring from one organization and going to work someplace else,” Madden told New Jersey Watchdog. “Obviously I don’t have a problem with people doing it. I’ve accepted that in my own personal life. I don’t have a problem with it at all.”
How did Madden retire with a fat pension at 48? Other public employees in New Jersey typically must wait until 60 or older to retire with full benefits. Under federal Social Security, the full retirement age is 66.
The answer is simple: “Special Retirement.” It is a rule that only applies to law enforcement officials in the Police & Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) or State Police Retirement System (SPRS). The special retirement provision allows officers to retire at any age after 25 years of service, without reduced benefits.
“It’s basically a young person’s job,” said Madden. “The system is set up for them to retire early to keep the forces young. We have mandatory retirement at 55.”
Two months before he turned 21, Madden was hired as a $9,088-a-year state trooper who would climb up the organizational chart. He could have retired at 45 with full benefits, but Madden maximized his nest egg by staying for four more raises, three more birthdays and two big promotions to lieutenant colonel and deputy superintendent. Then he retired June 30, 2002.
“I had reached the top of my career in policing. It was in my best interest to move on, so I decided to retire,” Madden said.
Four months after his 48th birthday, Madden began receiving a SPRS pension for life. It will pay him more than $2.5 million, if he lives until age 80 — the average life expectancy for a 57-year-old white male in the United States, according to federal statistics.
“I’ve earned that,” said Madden. “I paid into that system like every other trooper. You can make it sound like I’m getting something I don’t deserve, and that’s wrong.”
Madden’s pension is based on 27 years of service and a final salary of $112,451 a year. Previous years of lower pay and smaller retirement fund contributions are not part of the calculation. Under the statutory formula, his pension pay is 67 percent of his final salary, plus cost-of-living increases.
The senator noted the State Police does not participate in Social Security. Employees do not contribute to the federal program and typically do not qualify for its retirement benefits.
The first thing Madden did after he retired was return to the government payroll in a law enforcement job.
“There are a lot of positives to taking retirees that have strong resumes and productive work experience and placing them in other public jobs,” said Madden.
One state rule is supposed to prevent workers from temporarily retiring from public employment to take advantage of pension funds. A retirement only is considered to be legitimate, or “bona fide,” if “there is a good faith action to retire” and “there has been a cessation of employment of at least 30 days,” according to SPRS and PFRS handbooks.
If a retirement is not “bona fide,” the state can force the employee to return any benefits paid.
“I was thinking, ‘If they can do this job…’” Madden chuckled. “I think I bring morals and ethics and truthfulness to the seat. I had been policing my entire life, and I wanted to try something different.”
In a close election decided by recount, Madden beat Republican incumbent George Geist by 63 votes. One of the victor’s spoils was the $49,000 annual pay received by legislators.
“I have no problem balancing them,” said Madden, referring to his two jobs. He said he has flexible hours at his 35-hour-week college position and takes vacation time to attend Senate sessions when necessary.
He contends that state taxpayers benefit because he can hold two public positions in New Jersey concurrently.
“If I go across the bridge to Temple University (to work in Pennsylvania), those people get the benefit of my training and the college degrees that the people of New Jersey have invested in,” he said.
Bottom line: Madden rakes in $241,255 a year from a state pension plus two public salaries. He said he is not earning additional pensions from the college or Legislature.
15 NJ Legislators Collect State Pensions
New Jersey Watchdog found 15 current legislators — six senators and nine Assembly members — who receive state retirement checks in addition to legislative salaries, according to public records. The nine Democrats and six Republicans receive an average of $43,000 in annual pension pay.
Not coincidentally, those who get the biggest checks are retirees of PFRS or SPRS. State pension formulas and regulations favor law enforcement officials over other public employees.
For example, if Madden had retired as a member of the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) at the same age, salary history and years of service, his pension would have been cut in half.
Of the 15 lawmakers who receive state pensions plus legislative salaries, three are on the payrolls of other public agencies in New Jersey. In addition to Madden:
STATE LEGISLATORS WHO COLLECT NEW JERSEY PUBLIC PENSIONS
New Jersey Watchdog’s research focused on current state legislators who draw retirement pay from state pension funds. Data are from pension, payroll and personnel records obtained from the New Jersey Department of Treasury, Civil Service Commission and local governmental bodies through state’s Open Public Records Act requests. Pension amounts and employment status are current as of December 2011.
Key to abbreviations for state pension plans: PFRS – Police and Firemen’s Retirement System; SPRS – State Police Retirement System; TPAF – Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund; PERS – Public Employees’ Retirement System.