New Jersey’s Difficult Choices

viewerGovernor Chris Christie can no longer claim that New Jersey is a model for bi-partisan governance that Washington should emulate.

Yesterday, Senate President Steve Sweeney, playing the role of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) before The Star Ledger’s Editorial Board, threatened to shut down New Jersey’s goverment if Governor Chris Christie doesn’t support a budget for the next fiscal year that makes the state’s payment into the pension system required by the “landmark” legislation that Sweeney and Christie hammered out in 2011, and that Christie has touted as one of his major accomplishments.

Sweeney is reacting to what Christie said about the pension system during his State of the State Address two weeks ago.

Here’s what Christie actually said:

Lastly, let me share with you one more, hard truth that makes this new attitude of choice necessary for New Jersey’s future.

We have discussed many exciting opportunities for investment in our state. K-12 education. Higher education. Crime prevention. Drug rehabilitation and job training. Health care. Infrastructure investment. Lower taxes. Job growth. All exciting, all of which, done responsibly, could make New Jersey an even greater place. But here is the simple truth. We cannot afford to do it right now.

Why?

Because of our pension and debt service costs. For the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the increase in pension and debt service costs could amount to as much as nearly $1 billion.

That’s nearly $1 billion we can’t spend on education. That we can’t invest in infrastructure improvement. That we can’t use to put more cops on the street. That won’t be available to improve access to health care. And for those who would advocate for higher income taxes like the ones I have vetoed before, remember that the amount raised would not even cover the increase in our scheduled pension payment and would undoubtedly make us less competitive in the job market nationwide.

These are the consequences of failing to engage in an attitude of choice. If we continue in an era where we believe we can choose everything, we are really choosing nothing. We need to have the conversation now about further changes to our pension system and to adding further to the state’s debt load. But the time to avoid this conversation and these choices is nearly over.

If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension and debt service costs, we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few.

I am ready to engage in those conversations and help, with you, to truly create an attitude of choice. The result will be a better, smarter, stronger New Jersey. The results from our refusal to choose – a weaker New Jersey with a middle class burdened by even higher taxes. That is an abandonment of our duty.

Centuries ago, a philosopher wrote that “choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”  And this remains true for New Jersey today.

Our destiny is not set – it is the product of the choices we make. Our future is not set – it, too, is the product of the choices we make from this day forward.

So let us choose wisely.  And let us not fail to act.  Let us create an attitude of choice.

 

Christie concluded that we should choose to fund better schools, safer streets and creating opportunity “for every citizen, through an excellent education, a productive job, and a thriving community.”

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Copyright 2014 MoreMonmouthMusings
Posted: January 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Chris Christie, Pensions, Stephen Sweeney | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

More News On Our Unsustainable Pension System

NJ Watchdog reporter Mark Largerkvist released a report this morning about 125 “retired” police officers who are double dipping as employees of county prosecutors or the Attorney General.

The average age of the officers when they retired was 49.  On average they receive $79,000 in salary and $69,000 in pension payments annually.

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Posted: January 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: New Jersey Watchdog, Pensions | Tags: , , | 10 Comments »

How can we sustain this system?

Wall Township Administrator Joseph Verruni is retiring from his $179,000 per year job, after 20 years of service, on June 1, 2012.   He is 54 years old.  His pension will be between $80,000 and $90,000 per year, according to a report in The Asbury Park Press.

This rant is not about Verruni. 

As Wall is a wonderful place, I’m sure he did a terrific job over the last 20 years.   I don’t necessarily begrudge him the $179,000 salary for the work he did (even though Monmouth County Administrator Teri O’Connor makes significantly less)  But he’s 54 years old, starting a new career in the private sector,  that will be supplemented by $2,500,000  if he lives another 30 years!   That doesn’t include the tax payer funded health insurance that will keep him alive, hopefully for his sake and that of his family, more than 30 years!

If Verruni collects $85,000 per year for 30 years, he will have “earned” an additional $127,500 for every year he worked as Wall Township’s administrator.

I really should have taken a government job when I graduated from Georgetown in 1980.

This is not about Verruni.  It is about a system that pays adults in the prime of their earning years the equivalent of full time wages not to work.  Like my high school buddy who retired from the Bergenfield Police Department at 53 and takes home $20 per month less per month than he did when he put the uniform on every day.  Or like the retired State Police Investigator, 47 years old, collecting  a pension of $84,300 per year, who is Acting President of Brookdale Community College with a salary of $150,000 per year.

This system is not sustainable and it is not equitable.

The pension and benefit reform package that Governor Christie negotiated with the Democratic Legislature is an improvement of the previous system.  Yet the new system is not sustainable over time either.  We’re not feeling any of the pain yet.

Over the next 30 years, the state pension contribution will be $4.9 billion per year.  The local government contributions will be $2.3 billion per year over the next 30 years.  Both figures are on average.   We’re “enjoying” the savings now with smaller pension contributions that must increase by $500 million per year until we’re “caught up” with all the contributions we haven’t made since 2000.

Unless there is significant economic growth, soon, we won’t be able to sustain this system without significant tax increases. 

Who is going to be left to pay those taxes?

If we’re going to have a pension system for government employees, we shouldn’t be paying out until the retirees are 65 years old, or older as life expectancies increase.

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Posted: December 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: 2011 Year in review, Pensions | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

State Investigating Double Dipping Sheriff’s Officers

By Art Gallagher

The Star Ledger is reporting that the Treasury Department has initiated an investigation into sheriff’s officers in Essex, Monmouth and Union counties who are collecting pensions from the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) while continuing to perform as law enforcement officers, but with civilian titles, allowing them to “double dip”….collect a pension and a salary for job that would not allow for collecting a pension if it were properly classified.

Only elected officials are supposed to be allowed to do that in New Jersey.

In addition to the Treasury Department probe, John Scierchio, chairman of the PFRS board of trustees, has asked the Attorney General’s Office to launch a criminal probe into three sheriff’s officers suspected of circumventing pension guidelines, according to the Star Ledger.

The three officers are Monmouth County undersheriff Mickey Donovan, formerly the chief warrant officer, Essex County chief warrant officer John Dough, and Union County sheriff’s chief Harold Gibson.

This issue was first raised publically regarding Donovan, who retired from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office in 2005 and was hired as Monmouth’s chief warant officer by then Monmouth County Sheriff, now Lt. Governor, Kim Guadagno in 2008, last October by NJ Watchdog.

NJ Watchdog alleges that Guadagno, as Sheriff, eliminated the chief warrant officer position on September 16, 2008, but then gave Donovan that title a week later, even though he was hired in reality to be the chief law enforcement officer, so that he could collect a pension of $85,000 per year and a salary of $87,500 per year.

In a piece published on April 11, 2011, NJ Watchdog says that Donovan has improperly collected $227,000 in pension payments since 2008.  Additionally, he should have contributed $18,000 to the pension system, according to NJ Watchdog.

Guadagno declined to comment when MMM raised this issue with her when it became public in October.

Shaun Golden, then Acting Sheriff, told MMM in October that he had discussed Donovan’s employment status with state pension official months earlier and offered to make any changes they required.  There were no changes required at the time.  Golden said he told the officials that if they require changes in Monmoth County that they should also look into Essex and Union Counties.

Apparently they did.

Golden announced on February 15, 2011that Donovan was sworn in as undersheriff and is in charge of the law enforcement division.

Undersheriff is a civilian title, not a PFRS job, meaning Donovan, who now makes over $90,000, continues to collect his $85,000 pension.

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Posted: May 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Kim Guadagno, Mickey Donovan, Pensions, Shaun Golden | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments »

McGreevey’s Ordination In Limbo

By Art Gallagher

Machiavellian gay American Jim McGreevey’s bid to become an Episcopal priest has been rejected by the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, according to a report in the New York Post.

The former governor was not rejected because of his sexuality, but because he’s “a jackass,” according to a source quoted by the Post.  Church leaders sited McGreevey’s bitter divorce and  their concerns that he might be using the Church to recover his public image as reasons for his rejection.   McGreevey can try for the priesthood again after more study and charitable work.

McGreevey remains on the State payroll and in the pension system as a faculty member of Kean University’s Graduate Management Program, where he teaches ethics.

Maybe McGreevey would fare better in his vocation if he joined the faculty of a college affiliated with the Episcopal Church, like Bard College.  Bard is a 2 1/2 hour drive from McGreevey’s Plainfield home and they have a High School Early College Program in New York City.  If they would have him, it would be doable.  But how would he continue to accumulate his state pension credits?

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Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Jim McGreevey, Pensions | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Does the Freeholder Board need a clerk?

By Art Gallagher

The Asbury Park Press reported yesterday that the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders balked at appointing Freeholder Director Lillian Burry’s choice to replace Jim Gray as Clerk of the Board.

Gray retired at the end of October.  His salary was $109,748.  Burry wants to replace Gray with James Stuart of Colts Neck, a semi-retired real estate appraiser, who would start the job at $60,000 if appointed.

Stuart served on the Colts Neck Township Committee with Burry. He served the township for nine years through 2008.  He also had a real estate sales license that hung in Burry’s Colts Neck Realty brokerage office.

Freeholder Amy Mallet (D) slammed Burry for political patronage in proposing Stuart.  That is ironic coming from Mallet, whose unsuccessful running mate, Glenn Mason, was appointed the county Emergency Management Coordinator shortly after the Democrats took control of the Freeholder Board in 2009.

Freeholder John Curley (R) raised questions about Burry’s business relationship with Stuart which were echoed by Freeholder John D’Amico (D). Freeholder Rob Clifton (R) told the APP that we would wait and see what happens.

Sources tell MMM that Clifton and D’Amico are expected to join Burry in appointing Stuart at the next Freeholder meeting on November 23 over the bi-partisan objections of Mallet and Curley.

In these times of fiscal austerity, I think it is worth questioning this appointment and all appointments.  Let me emphasis that I am not taking a position, pro or con, on this appointment, at least not yet.  I’m simply raising questions and encouraging others to do the same.

The first question should be “Is the position necessary?”  Even if the position is required by legislation, and I don’t know if the clerk of the board position is required, the question should be asked, at all levels of government.

The Monmouth County website describes the Clerk of the Board function as follows:

The Office of the Clerk of the Board of Chosen Freeholders provides the Board with the necessary information and background material on those matters requiring its attention.

The principal activities of the Clerk of the Board are to keep a book of the minutes and a record of the orders and proceedings of the Board. The Clerk of the Board has custody of the official seal of the County and all records, documents and other official papers relating to the property and business of the County.

The functions performed by the Clerk of the Board include:

  • recording the official minutes of the Board
  • handling Board correspondence
  • preparing meeting agendas
  • processing, filing and advertising ordinances, resolutions and the county budget
  • serving as a liaison between the public and the Board
  • administering and recording oaths of office
  • signing official documents
  • attesting the signatures of officers and officials
  • maintaining a receipt of service of legal documents;
  • acting as custodian for several county departments with regard to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA)
  • directing correspondence and inquiries for action to various county departments
  • conducting business with other county departments as directed by the Board

Monmouth County’s Clerk of the Board’s office has a Deputy Clerk and three staffers.  When the new clerk is hired that will be five full time people working to fulfill the prescribed functions.  Record keeping and correspondence is important, but are all of those people necessary?  Would there be a savings by promoting the Deputy Clerk and freezing or reducing the staff?  Would the functions suffer?  Does technology make record keeping and correspondence more efficient?

Another question, and this is not meant to single out Stuart, but to address widespread abuses.  Is Stuart’s appointment a pension pad/grab?  Does he have pension credits from his service on the Colts Neck Township Committee that would count towards years of service should he be appointed to this job. I don’t know in Stuart’s case.  However such pension padding by part time elected officials has been so rampant over the years that the pension system, and abuse thereof, has obviously been a consideration when making such appointments in the past.  It should also be a consideration, on the other side of the equation, going forward.  If two people are equally qualified for a necessary position but one would add substantial pension costs if hired, those costs should be carefully considered in a hiring decision.

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Copyright 2010 MoreMonmouthMusings
Posted: November 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Monmouth County | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »