Newspaper review: Pay raises boost public payrolls, but number of double dippers drops


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NEPTUNE, New Jersey — Salaries paid to public employees in New Jersey rose $360 million last year, an Asbury Park Press review of government payroll data found.

While just 1,409 workers were added to the ranks of local, county, state, police, fire, college and state employees in 2013, the newspaper (http://on.app.com/1oyMU8L) found that total salaries went up 1.4 percent, to about $26.7 billion, the analysis of 414,000 pay records from 2013 show.

Meanwhile, the number of highly paid "double dippers" — or public employees receiving $100,000 or more in total pay by working two or more government jobs — continued to shrink, but they still took home $77.4 million in salaries.

While double dipping is legal, it is a sore point with many taxpayers, since some public employees are allowed to combine several smaller salaries to receive a sizable pension at retirement.

The boosted salaries, along with the annual increase in pay for most public employees, adds greater stress to the state's already beleaguered pension system. One estimate shows that by 2018 the state government may have to spend up to $5 billion — about 15 percent of its budget — to keep the pension system from going broke. The more the government has to spend on pensions, the less money is has to spend on roads, infrastructure repair and other pressing matters.

Gov. Chris Christie had planned to contribute $1.6 billion this year to maintain the system's solvency, but was forced to cut that amount by $884 million Tuesday to balance the state budget.

While the number of high-paid double dippers was lower last year, those figures still grate at Jerry Cantrell, of Randolph, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Alliance, a tax reform advocacy group.

Cantrell said it's clear that reforms adopted in 2007 and 2008 to curtail the practice of padding pensions through multiple jobs didn't go far enough. Specifically, he said, the grandfather clause provided back then ought to be replaced with a sunset provision that would end the practice once and for all.

"It comes down to basic right and wrong, and it's just wrong," Cantrell said.

"The young people coming up are the ones who are being victimized," he said, "because they're never going to get the benefits these double- and triple-dippers are getting, yet they're going to have to shoulder the burden for these freeloaders until they die, which in this day and age is a long, long time."

There were 570 people in that exclusive club last year, down from 645, a nearly 12 percent drop. Within this group, the average salary was $135,773, and the total pay amounted to nearly $77.4 million.

Of the highest paid multiple job holders, 62 were paid more than Gov. Chris Christie, whose salary is $175,000. The year before, 69 exceeded the governor's pay.

At the top of the list was Edward L. Kerwin, a tax assessor in eight different towns in northern New Jersey. His total salary last year was $357,798, just shy of President Barack Obama's $400,000 salary. If Kerwin retired today, after 25 years of service, he would be eligible for a pension of up to $159,000 a year, based on the state's pension calculator. Kerwin could not be reached for comment.

Coming in a distant second was Roy F. Riggitano, a chief financial officer in six municipalities in northern New Jersey, at $278,090, followed by another Damian G. Murray, the municipal court judge in Stafford who recently handled the Rocky the hybrid bobcat case, who occupies the same post in six other Ocean County towns. His combined salary was $274,404.

Because he has been in the pension system more than 30 years, Murray could qualify for an annual pension of $162,000 a year.

The total number of employees working two or more jobs — a group that includes many lesser paid workers who hold the same post on a part-time basis for multiple towns — fell from 2,615 to 2,123, a decrease of almost 19 percent. Their average salary was $76,839.

Overall, Superior Court judges were the highest paid group of public employees in the state, with an average annual salary $166,342 a year. New Jersey's paid firefighters are the highest paid in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average base salary for a paid firefighter was $95,040 last year, down $521 from 2012, according to the payroll data. A police officer was paid an average base salary of $90,695, up $663. Teachers had an average salary of $69,231, up $442 from 2012.


Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com

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