Lagerkvist: Here Are the Seven Deadly Sins of the New Jersey Pension System

Seal of New Jersey

New Jersey’s pension system is shouldering $51 billion of unfunded liabilities. How did it get that way?

In an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist goes through what he calls the “seven deadly sins” of the state’s pension system. Excerpted from the article:

#1 – Retirement shams

A New Jersey Watchdog investigation revealed state attorneys general rehired 23 of their own retirees as investigators and supervisors. More than half of those law enforcement officials “retired” for only one day before they went back to work for the state.

The rehired retirees collected $3.77 million a year — $1.56 million a year in pension pay plus $2.21 million in salaries. Such costly personnel maneuvers have happened so often that state officials even have a name for it — “resignation pickup.”

#2 – Full pensions for part timers

The loophole, exclusive to the Public Employees Retirement System, is open to a wide range of part-time elected and appointed officials from New Jersey’s 565 municipalities, 590 public school districts, 21 counties and other governmental entities.

The list includes state legislators, county freeholders, mayors, councilmen, school board members, prosecutors, judges, town attorneys, tax assessors and many others who work for public entities covered under PERS, the largest New Jersey retirement fund.
#3 – Double-dippers and triple-dippers

 Eighty percent of New Jersey sheriffs — elected in 17 of the state’s 21 counties — collect pensions as law enforcement retirees in addition to their six-figure salaries. Their payrolls include 29 undersheriffs who also double-dip. Overall, those 46 top county cops rake in $8.3 million a year – $3.4 million in retirement pay plus $4.9 million in salaries.

#4 – Disability pension abuses

5,500 retired police officers in New Jersey receive more than $200 million a year in disability pensions. They have been judged “totally and permanently disabled” by the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System or State Police Retirement System.

“I’d say 95 percent of the disability applications are questionable,” said John Sierchio, former chair of the PFRS Board of Trustees. “It’s people who don’t want to work anymore.”

#5 – Ill-advised health benefit costs

If you think a $51 billion pension deficit is bad, here’s something worse.

The New Jersey state retirement system also faces a staggering $53-billion shortfall in funding retiree medical benefits, according to a report released by state actuaries last month.

 #6 – The deadbeat state

From fiscal 2006 through 2011, New Jersey shortchanged its pension funds by more than $10 billion. Instead of contributing the expected $13.1 billion to the retirement accounts during that period, the state only pitched in $2.3 billion, according to a report by Common Sense Institute of New Jersey.

#7 – The $100,000 Club

New Jersey’s $100,000 Club of retired public officials has ballooned by 75 percent in the past three years. It is growing at a faster rate than the state’s pension deficit.

A total of 1,731 retirees collected $100,000 a year or more from state pensions last year,  an increase of 739 pensioners since 2010, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of Treasury data.

Mark Lagerkvist is an investigative reporter at the watchdog group New Jersey Watchdog.

There’s much more in the way of explanation over at the article, here.

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