The Associated Press reported this week that taxpayers in 20 states are funding pensions for some private lobbyists.
That should make taxpayers in New Jersey, where some lobbyists also earn lifetime health benefits, feel better, right? At least we're not alone.
But there's no comfort in the report, not as long as officials and employees of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Association of Counties and the New Jersey School Boards Association are eligible for state pensions and benefits.
It may, however, serve as a wake-up call to prod lawmakers to try, once again, to end this perk.
In January 2012, Gov. Chris Christie allowed a bill that would have curtailed this practice to die in a pocket veto. The bill, which had been passed unanimously by the Legislature, would have prohibited new hires of the lobbying groups from joining the state pension system.
These are not government employees, after all. These groups are funded by dues that municipalities, schools and counties pay, but they are not part of government. Taxpayers have no control over their salaries. And the higher the salary, the more employees eventually take out of the state's dangerously underfunded public-pension system.
But because the bill did not also deny pensions to public-employee union members who are full-time union officials, Christie refused to sign it. This is the same Christie who, as governor-elect in 2009, had called taxpayer-funded benefits for lobbying groups "crazy." Newspaper reports at the time revealed the extent of the problem - state taxpayers were contributing $1.3 million a year for 63 retirees of these organizations, and another 100 employees were eligible for the same benefits when they retired.
Employees of the lobbying groups became part of the state pension system in the 1950s, and they say they were not given a choice about it at the time. They also point out that they have been paying into the pension system during their careers, and most are vested in it.
Which is why the previous bill and a new one (A1540/S615)introduced by Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, both D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, would affect only new hires.
It's odd enough that public officials use public money to hire private lobbyists to influence other public officials. But to compound this by granting those highly paid lobbyists state pensions is outrageous.
It's time for state lawmakers to take up this measure and pass it.
And this time Christie should sign the bill and stop this practice.