By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
Double-dipping by New Jersey public officials continues to thrive for one big reason: Too many legislators either directly profit or quietly condone a costly practice that drains untold millions from state pension funds.
New Jersey Watchdog found 18 state lawmakers who receive retirement checks totaling $782,000 a year in addition to their legislative salaries. The roster includes leaders of each party in both the Senate and Assembly. (See full list below)
The Assembly’s roll of double-dippers features Deputy Speaker Connie Wagner, D-Paramus; Deputy Majority Leader Joseph Egan, D-New Brunswick; Majority Conference Leader Gordon Johnson, Teaneck; Minority Conference Leader David Rible, R-Wall Township; and Appropriations Officer John DiMaio, R-Bridgewater.
Ranking twin-scoopers in the Senate include Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck and Minority Conference Leader Robert Singer R-Lakewood.
The biggest dipper in the Legislature is Sen. Fred Madden, D-Turnersville, who collects nearly a quarter-million dollars a year from two public jobs and a state pension. In addition to $49,000 in legislative pay, the Senate Labor Committee chairman receives $85,272 from a State Police pension and $111,578 as dean of Law & Justice at Gloucester County College.
“Obviously, I don’t have a problem with people doing it,” Madden told New Jersey Watchdog last year.
“It’s not appropriate,” countered Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, one of the few legislators to openly oppose double-dipping. “The pension system is intended to support you at a time you are no longer working. So when you are an active employee, you should not be able to tap into both.”
“The governor called him out of retirement,” said spokesman Michael Drewniak. “And we are grateful to have him,”
Also in Christie’s corner are two prominent double-dipping Essex County Democrats who crossed party lines last month to publicly endorse the GOP governor’s re-election bid.
Sheriff Armando Fontoura rakes in $200,221 a year – $137,917 in salary plus a $62,304 pension. County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo gets $222,692 per annum – $153,831 in salary plus a $68,861 pension. Both Essex County officials used a loophole in law to “retire” without ever leaving their jobs.
Since 1990, Fontoura has collected $1.22 million in pension checks since plus a sheriff’s salary that has averaged six figures a year.
“Does it look bad? Yes. No question about it, it looks bad,” Fontoura admitted. “Was it legal? Yes.”
Under loopholes in New Jersey statute, most double-dipping is imperfectly legal.
“It’s an oddball exception to our law,” Beck said. “And that window’s got to close as we deal with the growing pension obligation. We’re not going to be able to afford to allow people to collect a pension while working full-time.”
A reform proposal co-sponsored by Beck could end double-dipping in New Jersey. If enacted, Senate Bill 601 would suspend state pension payments to retirees who return to public jobs that pay more than $15,000 a year. Their retirement benefits would resume after they permanently leave public employment.
“Let them vote no,” said Beck, referring to her 18 double-dipping colleagues in the Senate and Assembly.
But the measure has failed to reach the floor for a vote. It has been trapped in the Senate’s State Government Committee since it was first introduced in February 2011 by Beck and Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sparta.
The committee is chaired by Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Northfield, who annually collects a $35,160 state pension, $71,564 as a full-time Atlantic City school teacher and $49,000 as a legislator. Sen. Samuel Thompson, R-Old Bridge, another of the panel’s five members, receives a $51,996 pension plus his legislative pay.
Assembly Bill 860 – a companion bill sponsored by six Republicans and one Democrat – suffers the same fate. Since May 2011, the measure has been unable to escape the Assembly’s State Government Committee.
Opponents contend hiring double-dippers saves tax dollars, said Beck. Since pensioners already have state-funded health insurance coverage, governmental agencies that hire the retirees don’t need to provide those benefits.
The argument is short-sighted and self-serving. When officials retire early, knowing they can return to public jobs for a second check, they start drawing pension pay and benefits sooner than expected — sometimes 20 years or more, like Fontoura.
Overall, there are no real savings, only additional costs. The retirement system is stuck with the bill for health coverage. And even worse, the pension funds — which face a massive $47.2 billion deficit — are drained by longer payouts to retirees.
“You’re really destroying the fabric of the pension system,” Beck said. “You just can’t afford to do this stuff.”
18 NJ LEGISLATORS WHO COLLECT STATE SALARIES PLUS STATE PAY
|Pension/Yr||Employer at Retirement|
|Sen||Fred Madden Jr.||D-4||$85,272||State Police|
|Assmb||Gordon Johnson||D-37||$75,492||Bergen County|
|Assmb||BettyLou DeCroce||R-26||$55,872||Community Affairs|
|Assmb||David Rible||R-11||$55,032||Wall Twp|
|Assmb||Gilbert Wilson||D-5||$50,304||Camden City|
|Assmb||Diane Gove||R-9||$49,644||South Regional HS|
|Assmb||Connie Wagner||D-38||$46,368||Paramus Bd of Ed|
|Assmb||Bonnie Watson Coleman||D-15||$44,724||Community Affairs|
|Sen||James Whelan||D-2||$35,160||Ventor City|
|Assmb||Cleopatra Tucker||D-28||$33,996||Newark Hous Auth|
|Sen||James Beach||D-6||$33,564||Black Horse Pike RSD|
|Assmb||Joesph Egan||D-17||$24,216||New Brunswick|
|Assmb||Ralph Caputo||D-28||$11,628||Essex County|
|Assmb||John DiMaio||R-23||$10,356||Warren County|
This story was updated at 7:35 a.m. July 23.