With all the pension scams in our state’s loophole-ridden system, even this we don’t allow: At the Port Authority, a bistate agency, employees are permitted to run up their lifetime pensions by heaping on overtime pay in their final years.
Think about what that means. New Jersey calculates pensions according to your last three years of total pay. So a Port Authority cop working at Newark airport could accrue overtime in his last few years on the job, and enormously inflate his lifetime benefits.
New Jersey state guidelines prohibit this sort of thing. But the New York pension guidelines that Port Authority falls under allow it, and our taxpayers get sent a bill.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak wants an outside accounting firm to probe the agency’s prodigious overtime costs.
A recent report showed the average Port Authority salary has surpassed $100,000 – a surge driven largely by overtime costs. You could as much as double your base pay by working overtime, as 72 Port Authority workers have done, and exponentially increase your pension.
Given the high financial stakes, Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) is right to call for an independent audit, to figure out if the bistate agency is systematically driving up pension costs by padding workers’ salaries with huge amounts of overtime in the years before retirement.
Whether or not this is “an intentional scheme to pad pensions” by divvying up overtime among those in their last years on the job, as he suspects, he’s certainly right about the impact. So why not do the audit, unless there’s something to hide?
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials have been trying to reduce overtime in recent years.
A 2011 audit by the New York Comptroller’s office warned that overtime at the Port Authority “flows like water,” and that because employees at the end of their careers are able to boost their salaries this way, their pensions are also inflated.
Port Authority officials say they have since taken steps to tamp down on abuse. But are they doing enough to ensure overtime is allowed on a rotating basis, rather than offered to a chosen few, who are just looking to boost their pensions? And why so much overtime in the first place?
It reminds us of the thousands of part-timers in New Jersey’s pension system, who briefly snag a full-time public job at the end of their careers and then retire with a princely pension — the councilwoman who makes $6,000 annually for 30 years, for example, and right before retirement, becomes a town administrator earning $180,000.
A pension is supposed to supplement your loss of income upon retirement. If your salary for decades was $10,000 from a part-time job, you shouldn’t have a $100,000-a-year pension.
Both parties are to blame for permitting this. The Legislature knows about the loophole, and allows it to continue. So yes, audit the overtime books for the Port Authority, as Lesniak demands.
But why not audit New Jersey’s public employee retirement system, and look for political patronage jobs that increase pensions by tens of thousands of dollars, too?MORE: Recent Star-Ledger editorials