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Bill hikes salaries for Christie staff, judges
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Salaries for Gov. Chris Christie’s top staff and judges would be raised by a bill set to be fast-tracked through the New Jersey Legislature, but the measure does not include another proposed provision that would have benefited the governor by allowing him to earn income by writing a book while in office.
The bill set to be introduced Monday also enacts a pension change that benefits a few elected officials and raises the pay of the next governor.
An earlier draft of the bill obtained by The Associated Press cleared the way for the Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate to collect fees from a book while still governor, which current state law does not allow.
Former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver refused to post the bill during the lame-duck session. She was ousted from her leadership post in January.
Now the bill is set to be pushed through next week.
Oliver said she resisted “a full-court press to move that bill in December.” Though she was not specific on who applied the pressure, she said she felt strongly that no pension changes should be enacted to benefit elected officials or those with political clout when so many rank-and-file public employees are being required to pay significantly more for their pension and health benefits because of sweeping changes enacted in 2010.
To help secure votes for the proposal, a so-called sweetener has been added: All 120 legislators would see a $30,000 increase in the size of their budgets for staff salaries, bringing the total to $140,000 per legislator. The legislators pay their chiefs of staff and other aides out of that annual allocation, an amount that has not increased in more than a decade. Legislators themselves continue to earn $49,000 and would not see a raise.
The bill could reach Christie as soon as next Friday.
The governor’s office declined to comment.
Oliver said her strongest objection was to reversing a pension change enacted during sweeping reforms backed by the governor and designed to keep the public retiree system from going broke. The proposal allows some public officials who were deemed ineligible to continue in the Public Employee Retirement System to re-enroll by altering a continuous service requirement.
Christie, in his state of the state address last month, called for a new round of public employee pension concessions, suggesting that the landmark reforms enacted during his first term didn’t go far enough to shore up the fund. The state’s annual contribution to the underfunded pension system will balloon to $2.4 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, threatening to crowd out spending for programs and services.
The bill boosts cabinet members’ salaries from $141,000 to a maximum of $175,000 this year, but it leaves the size of the raise to the governor’s discretion. Another raise, to a maximum of $185,000, would take effect in 2018. The salaries are set by statute and are mostly identical for Christie’s two dozen cabinet officials.
The next governor would also earn $185,000 a year, a $10,000 bump. New Jersey’s governor is currently the fourth-highest paid, behind those in Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois.
The salaries of Supreme Court justices and Appellate, Superior and Tax Court judges would be increased by 4 percent in increments beginning this year.
Christie is scheduled to give his annual budget address Tuesday.
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