As reported by nj.com, a double-dipping pension practice that stoked outrage earlier this year may become a thing of the past. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously approved two bills to prevent elected officials from collecting their pensions without actually stepping down from their jobs. The bills would only affect elected officials who have not yet taken advantage of the loophole, which has been broadened since its inception in 1985.
Many elected officials and public employees retire, start collecting a pension, then get a different government job. But the law targeted by the committee allows elected officials like lawmakers and sheriffs to start collecting a pension while still holding the same job and collecting a paycheck, as long as they are eligible to retire and once had a different public job. Five lawmakers, some sheriffs and county surrogates have used the loophole.
Although the overall dollar figure involved is small, state Sen. Steve Oroho, the bill’s sponsor, said it’s important to eliminate lucrative exceptions for elected officials. “The perception and appearance is what really matters,” he said. “It’s an issue of the public trust.”
The bills had been stalled for years until news reports in April said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. had been using the loophole since August. He had “retired” three months before winning his unprecedented third term in office. State records peg his monthly pension at almost $5,740, while his salary was $153,207 last year.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote. Similar bills in the Assembly have not yet advanced.
DiVincenzo has defended his pension as legal and in the best interests of his family. In a statement, he said the committee’s decision “represents a noteworthy shift” in the Legislature. “Pension costs contribute to financial challenges being faced by state, county, and municipal governments,” he said. “I hope today’s vote enables us to continue the discussion and find additional ways to provide relief.”