Pols with more than one job State legislature looks to address pension ‘tacking’

State lawmakers, who are struggling with the costs of taxpayer-funded retirement programs for public employees, have released a list of the 200 workers who are collecting the largest combined paychecks from multiple public jobs and using their combined salaries for pension calculations.

The goal in releasing the list is to illustrate how some public employees could be seen as abusing the pension system. However, the practice of combining multiple public salaries is legal…for now.

Why it affects you

New Jersey homeowners pay the most in property taxes, per capita, in the country. According to a 2005 evaluation by the Tax Foundation, a non-profit policy research group, New Jersey has property taxes of $1,871 per capita.

One of the biggest expenses is pension programs, which will cost New Jersey taxpayers almost $2 billion this year.

According to Gov. Jon Corzine, the state faces an $18 billion unfunded pension liability. During his July 28 budget address, Corzine said there is little hope in providing lasting property tax relief for schools and towns until there is a workable and sustainable pension system in place.

Corzine has created a special legislative panel to review pension and benefit costs with an eye toward lowering local property taxes.

Atlantic County Republican state Sen. William Gormley, who sits on that legislative panel, asked for a list of the 200 workers who are collecting to biggest paychecks from multiple public jobs. He wanted to track the most prolific pension “tackers,” those who hold multiple public jobs and add the salaries of all of them to determine pension benefits.

This is perfectly legal right now.

In addition to tacking, Gormley said, another way to abuse the system is “padding,” which is the practice of taking a high paying, late-career job that dramatically boosts the salary on which a person’s pension will be based.

Under the current system, both pension tacking and padding are legal and, in many places, accepted practices.

According to testimony from Fred Beaver, director of the Division of Pensions and Benefits, about 5,000 workers collect paychecks from more than one public employer. One person, Jere Powell, a municipal judge in south Jersey, held 11 jobs and made a total of $171,776 in 2005.

The list

The list, which was compiled by the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits, includes judges, lawyers, firefighters, senators, mayors, and finance officials. Their salaries range from $138,830 to $280,827.

The list includes eight members of the legislature and another 28 workers who are employed by lawmakers in government jobs.

Additionally, 28 of the 200 receive at least one paycheck from a Hudson County municipality or other county institution.

Included on the list, at number four, is North Bergen State Sen. Nicholas Sacco, with a combined salary of $247,558 as a state senator, North Bergen mayor, and assistant school superintendent. Sacco, in a statement, said that he resents any accusations that he is abusing the system and that he will support reforms to eliminate possible abuses.

He added, “I won’t offer up my professional career and my service to my constituents as fodder for political grandstanding.”

Also in the top 10 is Joseph Mariniello, who ranked seventh. He is the city attorney in West New York, North Arlington, and Palisades Park with a combined salary of $222,556.

Even though many lawyers in the state work for a private firm or helm their own private practice, they often bank generous pension and benefit packages by working as city attorneys.

Other notable Hudson County public figures on the list include:

· Silverio A. Vega, a Hudson County freeholder, school administrator for the West New York Board of Education, and commissioner for the town of West New York. He came in 105 on the list with a combined salary of $153,894.

· Vincent Prieto, a state assemblyman and construction code official for the town of Secaucus, with a combined salary of $151,390.

· Mariano Vega, a Jersey City councilman and director of the Hudson County Department of Public Resources. He is 135th on the list with a combined salary of $147,450.

Reform on the way?

Currently, there are two proposals being discussed to curb pension abuses. Gormley’s proposal would limit employees to a single pension based on their highest paying job.

But some believe that would be too severe. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who is the co-chairman of the legislative panel examining pension and benefit reforms, has called for reforms that limit some of the benefits of having multiple jobs.

Scutari, who holds two public jobs, said the state should allow for people with expertise in their fields to be able to work in more than one town.

He would limit the amount of salary from multiple jobs that counts toward pension calculations to $141,000. That figure is the amount of money that that a state cabinet member makes.

Additionally, he would require employees to work at least 1,000 hours a year to qualify for pension credit and would only count jobs that pay at least $15,000 per year for pension calculations. The current minimum is $1,500.

Also, he would limit the year-to-year salary increases that can be used to boost pensions.

Additionally, Gov. Jon Corzine has called for a two-tiered system of benefits, in which new employees would have a higher retirement age and a 401(k)-like retirement system.


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