Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State Legislators Lay Lame-Duck Pension Egg

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

State Legislators Lay Lame-Duck Pension Egg

Article excerpt

Whenever New Jersey's politicians talked of pension reform, we thought they were talking about ways to improve the pension system, i.e., by making it more solvent and fair, and perhaps by asking the state's large corps of public employees to contribute more, or even switch to a 401(k) type retirement plan going forward. We didn't bank on a kind of "pension reform" — or, let's be honest, pension padding — that includes taking care of the political class first.

That's what is happening in Trenton, in the so-called "lame duck" session of the Legislature, when reason and caution are thrown to the wind in the name of paying back favors and rewarding loyalty.

As The Record and, State House reporter Nicholas Pugliese reported, last week saw the beginnings of a late rush to fast-track legislation tailored to help outgoing Camden Mayor Dana Redd, a former state senator, to enjoy a larger pension. The bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, would also fatten the pensions of other politicians, including Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex.

The bill would allow Redd, a Democrat and valuable ally of both Republican Gov. Chris Christie and South Jersey Democrats led by President Stephen Sweeney, to re-enroll in the pension system she was forced to leave in 2010.

The legislation offers a generous reboot to what some see as an unfair consequence of a 2007 law. That law said officials elected after July 1 of that year would be placed in a "defined contribution" system, similar to a 401(k). Those already enrolled in the traditional Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) were allowed to stay in, provided they kept the same office. When Redd was elected mayor of Camden in 2010, her previous pension was effectively frozen.

Now the new bill is on the fast track, without any review by the state's Pension and Health Benefit Review Commission. The legislation would bring Redd and others similarly affected back into the more lucrative pension system, and thereby negate one modest attempt at reform in the 2007 law. …

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