In 2013, New York paid $600,000 in pension benefits to politicians who were occupying jail cells instead of offices.
That’s because New York’s constitution makes it nearly impossible to take away a person’s pension benefits—even if that person is a corrupt politician who was booted from office and sent to jail.
The same is true around the country, as at least six states protect pension benefits under their constitutions. It’s a well-meaning provision, but in the case of corrupt politicians it often has unintended consequences.
New Jersey has been paying attention to New York’s conundrum, and it wants no part of that game.
Three state legislatures (Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove) recently proposed two initiatives that would shield taxpayers from the expenses that come with corrupt politicians—and force those politicians to pay for their court costs, among other things, by garnishing their pensions. From The Sand Paper:
The delegation’s first reform measure would make public officers or employees convicted of crimes affecting their office or found at fault in certain civil actions liable for the cost of prosecution and legal representation if received through the expense of public funds. Under the legislation, convicted persons would be subject to pension garnishment to satisfy the liability.
The second measure would allow a public employer to levy a judgment for restitution of illegally obtained funds against a convicted public employee’s retirement allowance. Provisions of the legislation would apply to any official’s or employee’s pension contribution to principal state-administered retirement systems.
One interesting segment from the lawmakers’ joint statement on the initiatives:
“When holding public office, you are answerable to the people whose tax dollars fund the operations of government,” the statement said. “Therefore, it would be appropriate to garnish the public pension of convicted politicians as a means of recovering the cost of their prosecution and legal defense as well as funds illegally obtained through the use of their government position. To do so would mitigate the cost of corruption on taxpayers, whose interests should be put first as the victims of such crimes.”