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A good start on policing pensions, but more needed

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For all the intangibles that make New Jersey such a desirable place to do business, the biggest counterweight executives have to find an answer to is the high cost of doing business here. And one of the biggest drivers of such costs is the state's pension system, which is home to more fraud and abuse than your average prison.

Chris Christie has taken an important step in righting the ship here. Hopefully, his creation of a fraud unit can both police cases where public workers are handsomely compensated for phantom disabilities and prevent cases of ineligible part-time workers accruing into the gold-plated system. That's good news for business owners and residents, whose taxes continue to climb as abuse cases mount.

But if the governor wants to see real reform and savings in this area, he should turn his focus to closing the loophole allowing elected officials to "retire," with a wink and a nudge, but continue to collect their salaries alongside their pension checks. A report out late last month from New Jersey Watchdog identified 17 lawmakers together pulling down nearly $750,000 a year from their pensions while continuing to serve in the Statehouse. And that's just the tip of the iceberg — or, perhaps, the top of the trough — as the report goes on to point out a number of double-dipping officials in other positions around the state.

It may not be the biggest cost driver in the state, but it's an ugly reminder that the political class here enjoys a do as we say, not as we do when it comes to a practice that, while not illegal, smacks of entitlement and a disregard for ethics. You won't find many CEOs at small companies, for instance, who retire to take advantage of retirement benefits, yet still put in the full days required to successfully grow a company.

Unfortunately, while this is fun to discuss, nothing is going to come of it. The Legislature isn't going to pass a Magna Carta limiting such options, and too many power players — including some of the top Democrats falling in line behind Christie, like Joe DiVincenzo — are the beneficiaries of this "retirement." We'll have to keep waiting on this one.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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