I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pension Confusion

Let me start by restating that Joe DeVincenzo is a huge hypocrite and deserves all of the opprobrium hurled his way. To run around with Christie bad-mouthing pensions while he himself is drawing from one is shameless.

But the reporting about his "double-dipping" is foggy at best. Take the Wall St. Journal:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged lawmakers Monday to abolish the practice that allows politicians to get a pension and salary for the same job, but he didn't get rough with a political ally who is doing just that.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, said he had spoken privately with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a Democrat, to say he didn't approve of the practice.
"I have expressed to him very clearly that I do not think it is the right thing to do," Mr. Christie said. [emphasis mine]
Wait - "for the same job"? That's not what newjerseynewsroom.com reported:
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo is double dipping at the public employee pay trough, and New Jersey’s largest police union wants him out of office.
The State Policemen’s Benevolent Association revealed Friday that DiVincenzo is taking advantage of a loophole that allows him to collect a $68,861 annual pension for serving as the county top official and $153,207 annually for continuing to serve in the position.
That makes DiVincenzo’s total take home $222,069 annually and more than what the governor, his cabinet members or any of New Jersey’s U.S. senators and members of Congress make. In August, as he was seeking another term as county executive, DiVincenzo quietly put in his retirement papers for a pension he earned as a parks supervisor and school athletics coordinator. [emphasis mine]
Well, which is it? Is the pension drawn from his position as Executive, or from his previous public jobs?

The AP (via Forbes) doesn't do any better:
In his first meeting with reporters in more than a week on Monday, Christie was peppered with questions about Democratic powerbroker Joe DiVincenzo, who is collecting $68,856 in pension benefits on top of his $156,207 salary. A loophole in the public worker retirement system allowed DiVincenzo to retire without ever leaving his job as head of the county of 771,000 residents. 
Other beneficiaries of the loophole include Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who started collecting his pension in 1999, and Cape May County Surrogate W. Robert Hentges, "retired" since 1998, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.
Christie has been a harsh critic of dual officeholding, has pressured executives of independent authorities and commissions from their jobs and reined in school superintendents who earn more than he does - $175,000 a year.
Is this "dual-office holding"? Is DiVencenzo still working as a parks commissioner or athletic director?

It took a couple of articles, but the Star-Ledger eventually tried to explain what's going on:
While cops can’t retire and keep policing and teachers can’t retire and keep teaching, a select few elected officials are allowed to retire and keep working in the same position.
It’s all thanks to a loophole that has grown since its inception in 1985. The law allows public employees to retire while still holding elected office, as long as they previously held a different public job. In DiVincenzo’s case, he previously worked as a parks supervisor and school athletics coordinator.
So he gets the pension based on non-elected positions AND on elected-office? Is he drawing from only the non-elected part? How much? Isn't that important? The Ledger didn't say.
The original law was signed into law in 1985, and the goal was to allow long-term public employees to serve in elected office without being denied their pension.
At that point, such elected officials could only serve out the term they were elected for and could only collect 60 percent of their salary. It only applied to civilian employees, not police officers.
The law was later loosened to remove the term limit and the salary restriction. Then in 1999, a second law applied the same rules to elected law enforcement positions, such as sheriff.
I think there's a big distinction to be made here. DiVencenzo was elected to the Executive position; he certainly wasn't elected to his previous jobs. If that pension is from his non-elected position, what's the harm?

Let me put it this way: suppose Sen. Diane Allen received a pension from her work as a TV anchor (I'm not saying she did, but let's suppose). Would it be wrong for her to draw from that private pension and collect her pay as a legislator? Suppose, instead, her employers bought out her contract (I seem to remember something like that did happen to her). Is it wrong for her to take that money and then run for office?

"But she wasn't a public employee!" Yeah, so? Are you saying public employees, who pay taxes like everyone else, shouldn't have the right to run for elected office and collect their negotiated compensation at the same time like everyone else?

Apparently, some people think so:
Oroho and Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) want to go even further. They don’t want any public employee to get a pension and a salary at the same time, even if the jobs are unrelated.
Beck said pensions are not supposed to boost paychecks.
No, pensions are supposed to compensate people for what the market says they are worth and simultaneously save the taxpayer money. Any public employee has the right to collect their pension according to the rules laid out and then go find another job - including elected office - if they so choose.

"But they're public employees! They aren't subject to market pressures on their wages!" If that's true, why are their wages lower than private workers? For that matter, why aren't all public employee wages the same? If there are no market forces at work, toll takers should make as much as neurosurgeons at public hospitals. Come to think of it, why aren't I making as much as Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano (it's not like he's doing such a bang-up job these days anyway)?

Of course there are market pressures on public workers. They give up total compensation for a variety of reasons (love of the job being the primary one). But if you take away that compensation in the form of cutting pensions, you'll have to either replace it with more money up front, or expect the quality of the worker willing to do the job to go down. Supply-and-demand, folks.

But no matter what: why should a private employee have a huge advantage over a public employee in seeking elected office? If that's not a violation of the 14th Amendment, I don't know what is.

I have no problem with telling DiVincenzo or anyone else that they can't collect a pension based on the current job they hold. But a previous job they no longer hold? How could anyone deny that? They've EARNED it.

1 comment:

Fred said...

Hi Jazz,

THe PBA threw a "retirement part" for Joe D. Pics & video at