Some members of New Jersey’s presscorps, along with Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and the Democratic National Committee seem think they finally have an issue to thwart Governor Chris Christie’s rising star. They’re hoping traffic jams in Fort Lee will prevent Christie from becoming President of the United States.
The Star Ledgerhas an article this morning quoting Democrats and academics saying “the scandal” could hurt Chrisite’s national ambitions.
But questions about the incident have fueled a scandal that even Christie’s masterful team of brand managers can’t make go away.
Stile and The Star Ledger’s reporters have it wrong. Christie deftly accepted “ultimate responsibility” for the mistakes made in Fort Lee last September, while deflecting blame, at his press conference on the matter on Friday. As NJTV’s Michael Aron said on Reporters Roundtable, the issue is ‘fundamentally over.” If the ‘Bridgegate’ story gets any ink at all in 2014 and beyond, it will be deep in the back pages.
It’s doubtful that the subpoenas that Wisniewski, as Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, issued will result in any smoking gun that proves that Christie or anyone in his inner circle other than Port Authority’s Bill Baroni or David Wildstein knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closures that tied up traffic in Fort Lee for a few days is September. Even if a smoking gun is discovered, as Hillary Clinton would shout, “What difference does it make?”
Now that Christie is a legitimate presidential contender, the front runner in the early polls, it is perfectly appropriate that the press and his opponents attempt to make mountains out of traffic jams and other mole hills as part of the vetting process for a president. Barack Obama got a pass from the press and his opponents in 2008 and 2012. Look what that got us.
Trenton Democrats’ continuing quest to turn Governor Christie’s strongest issue against him suffered a set back yesterday when AshBritt CEO Randall Perkins won over Democratic members of a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee and flummoxed presumed gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono by calling her on the political motivation of her questioning.
Facing four hours of questioning by the bi-partisan committee chaired by Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen), Perkins frequently praised the legislators for exercising their oversight duties, while combatively swatting back Democratic allegations of impropriety disguised as questions.
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.
Senator Loretta Weinberg has been creating a media storm touting Bergen County Assemblywoman Connie Wagner as the Democratic candidate to challenge Congressman Scott Garrett in the newly redrawn 5th congressional district.
The Star Ledger/NJ.com played along, mentioning Wagner most prominently in a piece about potential Garrett challengers.
Yet someone at NJ.com either doesn’t like Wagner or never heard of Google Images. They ran a 2008 file photo of Wagner with the article. Wagner looks a bit different in the more recent photo on her assembly website.
2008 Star Ledger photo of Assemblywoman Connie Wagner
The Bergenfield school system has a long tradition of excellence and out of the box thinking. It is appropriate that one of their schools was chosen for the pilot program.
Senator Loretta Weinberg, whose district includes Bergenfield, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney used the occasion to issue a snarky partisan statement that has nothing to do with the merits of the teacher evaluation system.
Snark is par for the course with Weinberg, but I didn’t expect her to make such a blatant gaff about Bergenfield’s history and the history of a New Jersey Hall of Fame member, Jersey Boy Frankie Valli.
Weinberg and Sweeney opened their statement as follows:
“It is great to see the governor visiting the wonderful schools in Bergenfield, home to the outstanding music program where Frankie Valli got started.
Bergenfield does have an outstanding music program. It has for decades. But that is not where Frankie Valli got started. Valli grew up in Newark.
Bob Gaudio, Valli’s partner in The Four Seasons and the writer of most of the group’s hit songs, got his start in Bergenfield. Gaudio had his first hit record, Short Shorts, at the age of 15 while still a student at Bergenfield High School.
Guadio and Valli met in 1958 while they were both touring with different groups. Two years later they formed The Four Seasons.
Weinberg should know this. Not because it is Bergenfield trivia, but because she attended Gaudio’s honorary graduation from Bergenfield High School only two years ago in 2009.
That Gaudio didn’t graduate with his class is an example of the long history of out of the box thinking for Bergenfield educators. Paul Hoffmeister, then-principal of Bergenfield High School, helped Gaudio convince his parents to let him drop out of school to pursue his musical career, according to the Jersey Boys Blog:
But, in 1958 he was only a 15-year-old kid who had tasted the success of “Short Shorts” and knew in his gut that music would be his life.
Now he only had to convince his parents that it would be a good idea for him to leave school so that he and the Royal Teens could go on tour with the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.
Though it was an easy decision for Gaudio, he knew it would be a hard sell to his parents.
But an ally came to his aid from a very surprising corner during a meeting with Bob, his parents and Paul Hoffmeister, then-principal of Bergenfield High School.
“My parents were very concerned,” said Gaudio, “and this meeting was my last resort to try and convince my dad, in particular, to let me go.”
“But I didn’t expect what happened,” he said. “I thought the principal would side with my parents, but he didn’t; and he shaped my future.”
“It was very astute of him,” said Gaudio, “and I think he was very tuned in to what kids were thinking and how they’re feeling at that stage in their lives.”
“I don’t know if he gave that type of advice to other people,” he said, “but it just made sense to him and was definitely the right decision for me, though I’m sure a major part of it was that I already had a hit record — I wasn’t just going to quit school and twiddle my thumbs and throw darts.”
Not only was Gaudio’s life shaped by Hoffmeister’s risk. American culture was shaped by it.
Weinberg and Sweeney should get their facts straight if they’re going to be snarky.
Trenton—Legislation sponsored by Senators Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth/Mercer) and Loretta Weinberg (D- Bergen) that would repeal certain obsolete, antiquated statutes containing demeaning language to women was passed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee today. The bill, S-2665/A-3841, would repeal a number of statues on the books which either do not accurately reflect the status of women in the 21st Century, or contain language which would be considered sexist or demeaning under today’s standards.
“It is bad enough these laws existed at all, much less remain on the books,” Beck said. “Our society has moved on from an era where the rights of women were deliberately limited by the Government, and it is time the law books do the same”
The laws which would be repealed are:
The “Married Woman’s Property Acts,” a law first enacted in the 1800s to codify married women’s right to own, control, and dispose of property. At the time of enactment, the law was considered an advance for women over the common law which imposed restrictions on a women’s legal and property rights. However, the law was made obsolete with the passage of the New Jersey Constitution and the Law Against Discrimination, along with any number of federal laws outlining a woman’s rights as being equal to men’s rights;
The “Bar by consent to ravisher law,” which provides that, “if a wife after being ravished, consent to the ravisher, she shall be disabled and forever barred from having her jointure or dower, unless her husband is voluntarily reconciled to her and permits her to dwell with him, in which case she shall be restored to her jointure or dower;”
The “Immediate marriage if arrested upon criminal charge law,” which states, “if a person is arrested upon a criminal charge, involving an accusation of bastardy, rape, fornication or of having had carnal knowledge of an unmarried female, and the accused person consents to marry such female, any licensing officer is authorized to immediately issue a marriage license irrespective of the provisions of [marriage requirements].”
Please come down to Trenton on Monday, May 23rd to let your voice be heard.
Event, Place and Time: Rally on Monday, May 23, 2011 at 12 noon on the Steps of the State House in Trenton, followed by 2 p.m. Senate Voting Session, Senate Gallery, 2nd floor of State House
Purpose: Oppose S2899, bill to fund Planned Parenthood
Revenue forecasts show that NJ is getting approximately $900 million from income tax returns and Senator Weinberg believes that $7.5M of it should go to Planned Parenthood!
That’s right. I just received word that Senator Loretta Weinberg introduced bill S2899 to fund Planned Parenthood family planning clinics today and Senate President Stephen Sweeney agreed to post it for a 2 p.m. Senate vote on Monday, May 23rd. In a statement released today, Senator Sweeney called Senator Weinberg, “a tireless advocate for women” and thanked her for her “constant and consistent fight on behalf of the women of New Jersey.” They are furious at Governor Christie for repeatedly vetoing bills to restore funds to their favorite core constitutency – Planned Parenthood.
Bill S2899 was introduced today, placed on 2nd reading and scheduled for a vote on Monday. The reason they are rushing this bill through is because they are hoping NJ citizens aren’t paying attention. Just last week, NJRTL exposed a 39 page deficiency report obtained through an Open Public Records Act Request. The Report was issued by the NJ Department of Health and involved a recent inspection of Planned Parenthood of Mercer County’s abortion and family planning clinic citing numerous health and safety violations. This report follows a videotape showing a Planned Parenthood clinic employee aiding and abetting sex traffickers of minor girls as young as 13.
By pushing to fund Planned Parenthood in spite of its criminal activity and violation of health and safety laws, both of which place the lives of women and young girls in immediate danger, Senator Weinberg proves she is not a champion of women. She is a champion and tireless advocate for Planned Parenthood and is fighting to fund them with our hard earned money. That is why NJRTL has scheduled a rally in Trenton on Monday at 12 noon to support Governor Christie’s veto of these bills and expose Weinberg and Sweeney’s political chicanery in the name of women’s health.
Can I count on you to stand with me on Monday, May 23rd to send a message to our Senators to vote No on S2899 and let them know we are watching how they vote? Please send this message to all your pro-life friends and family and please plan to attend the rally at 12 noon Monday, followed by the 2 p.m. Senate voting session, if possible! Mothers with small children are welcome! Please email me to let me know whether you will attend. Please also send a prewritten message to your State Senator, two Assembly members and Governor Christie from the Legislative Action center of our Website on this matter. Here is the link to the page. Thank you!
Marie Tasy, Executive Director New Jersey Right to Life