Imagine pulling in a pension of more than $100,000 a year. That's all most New Jersey residents can do - imagine such a pension. But they are paying that amount to a growing number of retired public employees.
A report from New Jersey Watchdog says the number of public retirees in the state whose pensions top $100,000 has climbed 75 percent in the past three years.
In 2010, there were 992 public retirees with pensions of at least $100,000. In 2013, there were 1,731.
We're not talking clerks, teachers and public works employees here. The highest paid retirees are former school superintendents and public safety officials.
Topping the list with pensions of $195,000 a year are retired Essex County College President A. Zachary Yamba and former Jersey City School Superintendent Charles Epps, who also left his job with a $268,000 contract settlement and $85,000 in unused sick time.
Feeling a little sick yourself right about now?
The largest group of retirees collecting more than $100,000 - 794 - are in the Police and Firemen's Retirement System, and almost all of them took advantage of "special retirement," which allows police and firefighters to retire with full pensions relatively young, after 25 years of service. So these big pensions are paid for a long time.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie proposed an austere budget, citing the "exploding costs of public employee pensions and benefits" and an unfunded pension liability of $52 billion.
Part of the pension problem is attributable to past New Jersey governors who played games with the funds and dug a hole the state is now trying to climb out of. But Christie is right that more must be done to rein in the cost of public-worker pensions.
Joseph Blaettler, who was 46 when he retired as Union City deputy police chief and began receiving $135,000 yearly in pension payments, told New Jersey Watchdog, "Politicians created this system, and I simply accepted what they gave me along the way. If taxpayers want to get angry at someone, they need to ask their local and state politicians how they allowed the system to get to this point."
He's right. Blame the municipal and school officials who negotiated these contracts. They knew they would be long gone before the bill came due. And blame state lawmakers and governors who have never adequately addressed these outrageous retirement benefits.
Now is clearly the time.