We'd guess that most of you probably know someone illegally gaming the state pension and disability systems. After all, this is New Jersey - and you know what we're talking about:
The former police officer or firefighter retired on full disability but living large and well, with a "disability" that doesn't seem to stop him from doing very much.
Or a part-time lawyer or engineer working under contract for several municipalities and continuing to accumulate credits toward a state pension and lifetime medical benefits paid for by taxpayers - even though a 2007 state law banned the practice.
A review of 58 municipalities and school districts by the Office of the State Comptroller in July 2012 found 176 lawyers and 21 engineers receiving such improper pension benefits. Comptroller Matthew Boxer said at the time that a review of all towns and school districts would likely uncover hundreds of additional cases - and millions in wasted pension funds.
Boxer also said that in many cases, municipalities had continued to allow the pension credits after the passage of the 2007 law on the legal advice of some of the same attorneys getting the improper benefits. Sweet, huh?
Well, Gov. Chris Christie has apparently had enough. Last week, he created the Pension Fraud and Abuse Unit in the state Treasury Department. Jim Scott, a criminal investigator in the state Attorney General's Office (and yet another former member of the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey when it was headed by Christie), will lead the unit, which will pursue both criminal and civil remedies.
It's a great idea. Our only question concerns the timing. Why now? Frankly, we would have assumed the state already had such a unit. But better late than never. And there's no doubt that Scott appears to be the kind of seasoned investigator who will produce results.
Perhaps most important: A website and a toll-free phone number will be set up to take tips from the public.
Certainly, anyone who is legally entitled to pension or disability benefits should get them. And we don't mean to imply that everyone retired on a disability is gaming the system. But vigorously attacking abuse, as this unit is designed to do, will help protect the solvency of the pension and disability systems - safeguarding both taxpayers' money and legitimate pension and disability payments to legitimate recipients.