By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
New Jersey’s $100K Club of retired public officials has more than doubled in the past four years, according to a New Jersey Watchdog analysis of state Treasury pension data.
As 2014 ended, 1,988 retirees were collecting state pensions in excess of $100,000 a year — the elite “1-percenters” among New Jersey’s 285,000 retirees. (Click here for the list) That number has grown quickly since 2010 when the count was 971.
New Jersey Watchdog found:
- The distinction of richest pension — $195,000 a year — is shared by former Jersey City school superintendent Charles Epps and retired Essex County College president A.Z. Yamba.
- Twenty-three of the 29 retirees who get more than $150,000 a year are retired school administrators.
- The city of Paterson is the capital of the $100K Club with 36 retirees, followed by Bergen County with 34, Hoboken with 28 and Atlantic City with 27.
- Local law enforcement and fire department retirees draw the most six-figure pensions. More than 47 percent — 943 — of the $100K Club members receive benefits from the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System.
- Of those PFRS pensioners, nearly 93 percent — 873— took advantage of “special retirement,” a provision in state law that enables police and fire officials, but not other public employees, to collect full pensions at relatively young ages.
Under special retirement, Joseph Blaettler was able to step down as Union City deputy police chief at age 46 to start pocketing roughly $135,000 a year for life.
“Politicians created this system, and I simply accepted what they gave me along the way,” Blaettler told New Jersey Watchdog in a 2012 email. “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.”
By age 80, his statistical life expectancy, Blaettler will have collected more than $4.5 million from PFRS.
Such fat public pensions are symbolic of the follies, foibles and governmental mismanagement that have led to a $170 billion shortfall in the state retirement system, according to official numbers from the state Treasury. That figure includes:
- $82.7 billion in unfunded liability for the pension plans of state workers;
- A $20.7 billion shortfall for the pensions of local government employees who collect retirement checks from the state;
- $53 billion in unfunded health benefits for state retirees; and
- $13.8 billion to cover the post-employment benefits of local government workers.
Gov. Chris Christie pledged to fix the system in last year’s budget address, but so far has failed to advocate any specific reforms.
“This is the goal I will dedicate myself to in the remaining years of my governorship,” Christie proclaimed in an unscripted line during his 2014 speech.
Last August, the governor appointed a panel of experts to study the problem. Six months later, that panel has yet to propose any solutions.
The governor is expected to talk about the pension dilemma, as well as other state fiscal issues, during his 2015 budget address scheduled for February 24.
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Click here for New Jersey Watchdog’s list of $100K Club’s 1,988 retirees ranked by pension pay.
Click here for an A-Z alphabetized list of those pensioners.
Click here for the list sorted by the retirees’ governmental employers.
New Jersey Watchdog’s research for this story is based on the New Jersey State Treasury’s pension databases for 2010 through 2014 plus other agency records.