Thursday, January 25, 2007

The reform bill that wasn't

Have you ever wanted to reform a broken pension system by passing a bill that doesn't reform anything? You're in great company then, since the reform bill being pushed (or maybe its being pulled now) through the Legislature essentially does nothing. Or, as Senator William Gormley said, "this is like a slow death to reform. Every day something else comes out. There's not much else left."

He's right. First it was Governor Jon S. Corzine telling the Legislature to scrap all pension reforms that related to state workers under union contract. Then went the ban on dual officeholders and any meat in the office of comptroller. Now the Democrats in Trenton have scrapped "efforts to curb the hefty public pensions that some municipal assessors, building inspectors and other professionals build up by working part-time for multiple towns."
The new version of the bill would stop lawyers and engineers from tacking together taxpayer-funded retirement benefits from various local governments. But it carves out an exception for other professionals including health officers, tax collectors and municipal clerks.

It marks the latest of a host of reforms recommended by a special legislative panel last year to fall by the wayside as lawmakers attempt to reach consensus on pension reform.

* * *

Senate President Richard Codey, D-Essex, sponsor of the reform bill introduced Tuesday, said the professionals affected by the new provisions are distinct from lawyers and engineers, in that they generally are direct municipal employees without income from private firms.

But a list compiled last year by state pension officials showed that assessors and other professionals can rack up hefty combined salaries and retirement benefits from multiple public jobs.

When told that six of the 20 highest total paychecks on the list went to people who would be exempted from the new legislation, Codey said that provision might have to be reviewed.

The most highly paid assessor on that list, Edward L. Kerwin, collected a total of $243,124 in salaries from eight communities in Somerset and Hunterdon counties last year.

This is reform? It sounds like business as usual to us.

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