Stopping the Fleecing of N.J. Pensions by Political Hacks

I know a former politician who after being a part time elected official for a number of years and perhaps having a menial public job somewhere, landed a very lucrative position in an independent public authority, plausibly to make a living but also to qualify for a juicy pension. The position was security chief and all he did was to convert the place in an Auschwitz-look-alike, and spend $ tens of thousands chasing the Canadian geese out of the grounds – a never ending crusade for the geese were incredibly persistent and multiplied… like geese do.

He also declared war against feral cats and red foxes. Two of the persecuted feral cats applied for political asylum at my house when they were babies and live happily here. This guy knew about security as much as I know about deep sea diving. That is zero.

I was engaged in an interesting debate with a friend of mine after my last article on pension returns and probably the only thing we agreed on was that the problem is pervasive: People with political connections (she disputed that her friend had any) hold menial or part time positions, or political office for a number of years, with low wages, and then as they reach the 20th or so year in the pension system, they talk to their political godfather or godmother or ally or political boss and voila – from one day to the next they become managers of things that they often have no idea how they work but which secure them juicy pensions after a few years on the public dole.

There are thousands of those cases. Christie himself has appointed a few, even at the Port Authority of NY and NJ.  Another instance is, I believe, the chief of the Delaware River Port Authority who is a former assemblyman or senator of NJ. But they are present at every level of government.  This type of thing is as Newjersian as apple pie is American.

Up to now, in my program, the line of defense against these abuses has passed not through the pension system but through civil service law. That is: I would very strongly advocate for a reform of CS Law so that almost every position in the public sector has to be open to the general public through conspicuous advertisement, examinations and/or professional vetting. Thus neither the governor nor anybody else could just pick someone and give him/her a public job, or worse, invent un unnecessary job to favor a political supporter, relative, etc.

The only exceptions would be at cabinet level, executive secretaries, etc. That is my concept of civil service reform.

But after the discussion with my friend I thought that there could also be a safety mechanism in the pensions themselves. That is: When there is a sudden and very large (we have to define very large) increase in wages, during the last ten (or so) years of public employment, then the retirement pension becomes a fraction (also to be defined) of the total employee contribution to the pension during the entire public career and not calculated on the last 5 years base-salary.

I am still turning  this idea around in my mind so it is by no means a finished product. But it would be an additional hoop pension abusers would have to jump through.

Obviously, all those in the N.J. Pension System today, such as the officials of the N.J. League of Municipalities, League of Counties, some legal and consulting firms associated with county governments, etc., who are not public employees, should be expelled from the New Jersey Pension System.

From left to right: Albert and Jimmy days after receiving refugee status at home

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Term-Limits for the New Jersey Legislature Are a Must

If two people so immensely different as governor Christie and I are supportive of the same measure – setting term limits for NJ legislators – there must be some merit in the idea. In fact, there is not just some merit: It is very much needed.

Christie favors term limits for state legislators | The Source | NorthJersey.com.

The main ingredient to the sclerotic political system of New Jersey resides in the Legislature whose two political parties gerrymander the electoral districts to keep the membership of the two chambers almost constant term after term. Members die in office and their relatives come or at least attempt to finish the term of the diseased as if the legislative branch of the State of New Jersey were a hereditary succession system. Once in a while, some of the legislators leave the office just to take some more lucrative patronage positions in the numerous independent authorities created by themselves. The long stay of the legislators in their offices leads to the rise of political bosses, such as George Norcross.

I favor limits of two terms for both the Assembly and the Senate. Furthermore, NJ legislators should be subject to the same pension and health benefit contributions as all other public employees.

The two branches of the State of New Jersey, executive and legislative, use above $500 million from a $31 billion state budget. That is also excessive. If elected governor my first budget will propose significant cuts to both branches.

As a side note, the NJ Division of Taxation is engaging in what I perceive as harassment, possibly because of my militancy and candidacy. Since my tax returns are very simple – wages only – they have resorted to attempt to collect NJ tax again on my contributions to a small 457 retirement account I once had. Employees’ contributions to 457 retirement accounts are tax deferred by the federal government but New Jersey taxes them in the payroll. They are demanding that I pay again. The distribution was in the tax year 2008 and the notice I received lists me as customer 001 – like sending me a message – I presume.

New Jersey could only tax at distribution any dividend earned during the life of the account and that tax was paid with the 2008 return.

Additionally, they arbitrarily rejected my homeowners credit in this last return of tax year 2011 offering no reason. Of course I meet all the criteria and my tax return was impeccably simple. I contacted the division by phone and they said it was their error which they would correct but with two incidents back-to-back, when I know I am correct in both, I do not trust the system. Some hack has been instructed to get on my case by any means possible.

Although the total amount in question in the two incidents combined is $452.60, I have sued the Division of Taxation in Tax Court, with the complaint served  to them and the NJ Attorney General today. The court fee is $35 and the postage certified and return receipt to all 3 was about $18.

Is Governor Christie a Leader or a Pusher?

He is certainly a consummate divider. Do we want 4 more years, after November 2013, of this mismanagement of the state? Or do we want the democratic opposition, which have been accomplices if not the protagonists in the undoing of the fiscal health and economy of New Jersey?

The tentacles of both parties are suffocating New Jersey.

New Jersey is still stuck in the 43-46 position in the national unemployment roster, tied with Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. Christie is indeed pushing the state backwards.

Unemployment: Where does your state rank? – CNNMoney.

We have the highest property taxes in the nation. We can not have growth without significant reforms in our tax and political systems.

New Jersey Governor Puts Up Show With Sick-Time Payouts Issue

Gov. Christie pushes to end payouts for public employees’ unused sick days | NJ.com.

Of course limiting sick-time payouts makes sense. The State of New Jersey already has a limit already agreed upon. I believe it is 2 weeks max. Setting limits on payouts has always been possible through contract negotiations, or if there is no union, by council (towns), commissioners (independent authorities), or freeholders (counties) resolution. Where there are no limits, it is often because the politicos benefit the most.

Now, from the view point of the sums of money involved, limiting political patronage is much more significant because a political hack will make every year much more than what the average  retiring worker will take in sick-time payout just once in-a-lifetime.

Why is the governor not addressing political patronage or nepotism?

Obviously, Christie would not touch the latter with a ten-foot pole because those are the perks of the political caste in power; he is part of it. I mean: Christie making a real effort to correct the eternal abuses in public employment in New Jersey at the expense of the taxpayers; it is not going to happen. The governor is very apt to put up a theatre show and take down a couple of fall-guys as he did in the Passaic Valley Sewage Authority. But he will not – ever- attempt to fix the system in a comprehensive manner.

To do so, Civil Service Law of New Jersey must be strengthened. Christie is proposing the opposite.

This is what occurs when there are political appointees in a government unit:

http://www.nj.com/jjournal-news/index.ssf/2011/12/jersey_city_administration_giv.html

You can bet the family farm that many or most of these positions are political patronage appointments.

I propose to strengthen Civil Service Law in New Jersey and also reforming the section of the statute that covers the sick time allowance. From my experience as union president, I do believe that leaving the current allowance of 15 days will lead to absenteeism if the payouts are ended. Sick time issues were always a pain during my tenure as union president, because it was a gray area.  Therefore the best approach, in my opinion, is to change to a system of occurrences which would be much lower that 15 but would also cover a serious illness event that could keep the employee off work until short term disability kicks in. Nonetheless, a fair system requires some more fine-tuning.

Once a system of occurrences is the law, there would be no payouts at all except for those current employees who have accumulated time already.