4/13/08

Double-dipping epidemic in labor-state

The ranks of highly paid double dippers — government employees with two or more public jobs that paid more than $100,000 together — swelled by 20 percent last year, despite calls to end the practice, Gannett New Jersey has found.

A review of pension enrollment data found that:

A total of 853 highly paid double dippers were in the state's largest public employee retirement fund last year, an increase of 20 percent from 2006 to 2007.

Those same multiple-job holders had a collective salary of $107.8 million, also up 20 percent from 2006. They held an average of 2.8 jobs each and had an average pay of $126,000 in 2007. All totaled, there were 6,271 multiple-job holders — including one woman with 12 jobs — pulling down $354 million in salaries.

Although the total number of government jobs — municipal, county, state, school, police and fire department — held steady at 464,000 from 2006 to 2007, the total base salaries rose 3.7 percent to $22.8 billion — equal to nearly half of all state and local tax money collected last year.

To view salaries for all employees, and a searchable list of multiple-job holders, visit www.DataUniverse.com and click on "What's New." DataUniverse is the Asbury Park Press' public records site on the Web.

Gannett New Jersey has found numerous examples over the years of independent contractors, mostly lawyers, receiving far better government pension benefits than full-time government employees. By cobbling together multiple part-time posts, some multiple-job holders can amass an annual public salary that eclipses the amount New Jersey governors are entitled to under state law.

And with higher salaries come higher pension payments upon retirement.

Take Damian G. Murray, the highest paid multiple-job holder in the state last year, according to pension records. He also keeps a private law office.

A municipal court judge for eight Ocean County municipalities, his total taxpayer-funded pay was $301,826. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is paid $212,100.

When Murray, 59, retires from government service, his final pension will be based on the average of his highest three salaries. That could qualify him for a pension of about $150,000 a year, according to the pension payment formula.

Murray did not return calls for comment, but he has said in the past that he works around the clock, and is always on call to set bail for suspects and review warrants.
Examining pay, benefits

Double dipping is a practice that is increasingly drawing the attention of state lawmakers.

"That's ridiculous — it really is," said state Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, of Murray's eight part-time jobs. "Honestly, it's a way of getting away with pensions for part-time employees. We need to look at: Is it really right for part-time workers to be in the pension system?"

Sweeney, the Senate majority leader, said he believes that lawmakers this year will closely examine government employee pay and benefits.

"I think you are going to see a lot of legislators starting to step forward and talking about this kind of stuff," Sweeney said. "It's a much more crowded platform of people who want to talk about this, Republicans and Democrats."

Gov. Corzine has cut state workers by 2,000 since taking office in 2006, and he wants to reduce the 68,000 state workers by another 3,000 in his proposed 2008-09 budget.

In February, Corzine asked members of the public to submit ideas on how to cut the cost of state government. But, based on the responses of more than 1,500 residents who e-mailed the governor, the public feels he hasn't gone far enough.

Many wrote that they felt government pay and benefits remain excessive.

"Most importantly . . . CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT GOVERNMENT SPENDING AND THE DOUBLE & TRIPLE DIPPING OF PENSIONS!!" wrote Matthew J. Guiro, a 35-year-old mortgage banker from Brick.

In Stafford, one of the eight municipalities where Murray presides, his contract requires him to hold court a minimum of 43 days a year. At a 2007 salary of $41,728, that's just under $1,000 a day.

"I can see people saying, can you hold eight part-time jobs?" said Carl W. Block, himself a multiple-job holder as Stafford mayor and Ocean County clerk. "That's a fair point, and Damian is going to have to answer that question."

Gerard J. Meara, executive director of the AFSCME Council 73, which represents 11,000 government workers in New Jersey, said he opposed judges and others who accrue such high pensions based on many part-time jobs.

"That type of person really isn't an employee; they jump from one municipality to the other," he said. "With the pension being underfunded, as it is, any negative impact such as that is a concern to our members."

The government employee with the most jobs in the pension systems is Mary E. Bakey, who held a dozen positions with school boards in Camden and Burlington counties last year. Her total reported base pay last year was $64,235.

Bakey specializes in the niche position of "Treasurer of School Funds," which, under state law dating to at least 1903, all school boards must have.

The job is to double-check what, in nearly all cases, the school business office has already done: reconcile the district's bank accounts. The law predates school business administrators, electronic funds transfers and book-balancing computer software.

"It's another set of eyes looking over your books," said Joanne Clement, the school business administrator for the Clementon Board of Education in Camden County. Clementon hired Bakey two years ago, and paid her $1,750 in 2007.

Bakey could not be reached for comment.

To reduce school costs, Assemblyman Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr., R-Monmouth, has proposed a bill that would make the treasurer's job optional. Both the New Jersey School Boards Association and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials support the bill.

(app.com)

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