By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
New Jersey’s $100K Club of retired public officials has ballooned by 75 percent in the past three years.
A total of 1,731 retirees collect $100,000 a year or more from state pensions — an increase of 739 pensioners since 2010, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of state Treasury data. They are the elite “1-percenters” among the state’s 275,000-plus retired public workers.
Sitting at the top of the list with $195,000 annual pensions are former Jersey City school superintendent Charles Epps and retired Essex County College President A. Z. Yamba.
New Jersey Watchdog also found:
- Among local governments, the City of Paterson is the capital of the $100K Club. Paterson has 34 retirees receiving $100,000-plus, followed by Hoboken and Bergen County with 26 each and Paramus with 25.
- Retired police and fire officials are most likely to be to $100K Club members. The Police and Firemen’s Retirement System has 794 six-figure pensioners, trailed by the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund with 527, Judicial Retirement System with 283 and Public Employees Retirement System with 127.
- The overwhelming majority of PFRS $100K retirees — 737, or 93 percent — took advantage of “special retirement” after 25 years. It is an exclusive provision in state statute that allows police and fire officers, but not other public employees, to retire at relatively young ages with full pensions.
Joseph Blaettler is the poster boy for special retirement in New Jersey. When he retired at age 46 as Union City deputy police chief, he started pocketing nearly $135,000 a year in pension checks.
By age 80, his statistical life expectancy, Blaettler will rake in more than $4.5 million from PFRS.
“Politicians created this system, and I simply accepted what they gave me along the way,” Blaettler told New Jersey Watchdog in 2012. “If taxpayers want to get angry with someone, they need to ask their local and state politicians how they allowed the system to get to the point it is at.”
Such lottery-sized payouts contribute to the woes of state pension funds that face a $47 billion shortfall, according to the Treasury’s estimate.
Gov. Chris Christie is expected to address New Jersey’s pension dilemma on Tuesday in his annual budget speech to the Legislature.
“We need to have the conversation now about further changes to our pension system and to adding further to the state’s debt load,” said Christie in his State of the State address last month. “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.”
In response, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, threatened a government shutdown if Christie reneges on the state’s required annual pension contribution, currently $1.7 billion and scheduled to increase to $2.4 billion for the next fiscal year.
“If I had to shut down the government, we would,” Sweeney warned a Star-Ledger editorial board. “I’ve made a commitment, and I’ve got to keep it.”
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Click here for New Jersey Watchdog’s list of retirees collecting $100,000 a year or more in state pensions, ranked by their retirement pay.
Click here for an A to Z alphabetized list of the retirees.
Click here for a list sorted by the retirees’ governmental employers.