TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Ellen Karcher which would make various amendments to the pensions and benefits of those holding public office in New Jersey was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 25-7.
“For too long in New Jersey, people have treated public office like a gold mine, with perks and benefits well above what someone could get in the private sector,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “When I was elected to the State Senate, I was elected to serve the people of the 12th Legislative District, not to enrich myself on the perks of office. It’s time we get real on the benefits we offer to those who serve in public office.”
Senator Karcher’s bill, S-17, would make a number of changes to the benefits offered to those elected or appointed to public office. These include moving newly-elected or appointed public officials to a defined-contribution retirement program, and increasing the annual income threshold required to trigger retirement benefits. The bill would also cap the amount of sick and vacation leave that can be carried forward by public employees, and would provide incentives for employees to waive State Health Benefits coverage if they are already covered under a spouse’s health plan.
“These reforms are common sense attempts to reign in a runaway benefits system for public officials,” said Senator Karcher. “We cannot afford Cadillac benefits on a Chevy budget. This bill represents a good faith effort to bring the benefits we offer to elected and appointed public officers in line with what we can realistically afford with our State’s ongoing fiscal picture.”
The bill would also make other good-government reforms, such as cracking down on pension boosting pay increases, by triggering review by pensions and benefits boards whenever excessive compensation increases occur. The bill would also eliminate the practice of tacking multiple pension credits to create a massive retirement payout, and would remove those who perform a professional service contract from the State pension system.
“Many of the provisions set forth in this bill – such as the ban on pension boosting and tacking – are concepts which are long overdue in New Jersey,” said Senator Karcher. “The people of New Jersey are calling for reform, not just to save tax dollars, but to promote better government, not beholden to special interests and governed by ethical lapses. This bill accomplishes both fiscal and good government reforms that are much needed in the Garden State.”
Senator Karcher added that the bill was amended to remove a provision banning dual office holding in New Jersey, so that the Senate could pass broader prohibitions in a stand-alone bill. Senator Karcher signed on to co-sponsor the dual-office holding ban, saying, “This is one of the most significant steps we can take to restore people’s faith in government and ensure ethical behavior by public officials. Holding more than one elected office raises far too many conflicts of constituencies, and far too many questions on the motives of individual pieces of legislation, to be a constructive practice for the State of New Jersey.”
The bill now heads back to the Assembly for concurrence with the amendments.