As reported in the New Jersey Observer, during his last full day in office, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill on Monday to pad pensions for certain politicians. The fast-tracked bill, which sped through the legislature in less than a month, allows certain elected officials to re-enroll in the public worker pension system, even if they were kicked out due to switching from one elected office to another. Christie did not include a signing statement for the pension padding legislation like he did for many other bills that he signed on that day.
Effectively, the new law (S3620/A5322) creates a special exemption that allows certain politicians to cash in on a bigger public pension at a time when public workers who are not politically connected have seen cutbacks to their benefits and a freeze in yearly cost-of-living adjustments for retirees since 2011.
At issue was a 2007 law that put new elected officials in a retirement plan, similar to a 401(k), called the “Defined Contribution Retirement Program.” That plan offers less generous benefits than the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS), one of the state’s largest and least financially sound pension funds. Elected officials already enrolled in PERS before July 1, 2007, however, were allowed to keep building up their heftier PERS pensions as long as they remained in the same elected office, with an exception for lawmakers who jumped between the Assembly and Senate.
Now, politicians who served in elected office on July 1, 2007—but later jumped to another elected office—can re-enroll in the PERS fund, so long as they have served at least 15 years with no break in time between holding different offices. Those elected officials can also make their pension enrollment retroactive to the date of taking any previous elected office.
Such action on the part of the Governor and the legislature appears to be nothing more than a kick in the teeth to New Jersey’s Public Employees that have been paying into the pension system continually only to see the health of the system decay due to State sponsored pension holidays and the Governor’s refusal to fund the pension system as promised. The ball is now in Governor Elect Murphy’s court to handle the State’s public pensions. Certainly, all of New Jersey is looking towards him for a better performance than his predecessor.