Bloomberg News

Christie Top Aide Gets State Pension While Earning $130,000

November 24, 2011

(Adds New York and California measures in 13th paragraph.)

Nov. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Louis Goetting, a top aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has called for lawmakers to end so-called double-dipping by government workers, collects almost $220,000 a year in salary and pension at the same time.

Goetting gets paid $130,000 a year for his work as an adviser and member of the governor’s staff. Goetting, who has worked for several agencies and municipalities over a three- decade career, also collects an annual state pension of $88,740, according to a database of public finance.

Christie, 49, a first-term Republican, has said that Goetting’s situation is different from others he has criticized because his aide’s current position isn’t the same as the one he retired from. In April, Christie urged reporters to “take the bat” to state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck, for collecting both a public pension of about $40,000 a year, and a $49,000-a-year paycheck as a legislator while knocking others for similar practices.

Weinberg, a 76-year-old widow who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as Jon Corzine’s running mate in the 2009 election won by Christie, had said Christie wasn’t critical enough of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., a Democratic party leader. He collects retirement benefits and a salary for the same job.

“He should look at his own cabinet,” Weinberg said in April, referring to Goetting. “He’s got a lot of things to worry about on behalf of the people of New Jersey, and I’m not one of them.”

Benefit Credits

No other member of Christie’s staff or cabinet is in the state pension system, a search of the database shows.

Goetting isn’t eligible to accrue additional pension credits in his administration post of Cabinet Secretary, Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said by e-mail. Drewniak, who provided a transcript of an April 13 statement from Christie on Goetting’s situation, declined to give details on his past employment.

“In the first 15 months, one of the singularly most indispensable people in this government to our success has been Lou Goetting,” Christie told reporters in April. “There is no one in my administration, myself included, who understands about the operation of this government better than Lou Goetting does. And so the people of New Jersey have gotten an incredible bargain.”

Government Pension

Andrew Pratt, a spokesman for state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, declined to comment on Goetting’s employment and told a reporter to make a request under the Open Public Records Act for information about Goetting’s severance pay.

Weinberg has said she began collecting her lawmaker’s pension last year after losing her life savings in Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Weinberg is traveling for the holidays and can’t be reached to comment today on Goetting’s pay arrangement, said Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Senate Democrats. Roseman declined to comment on the issue.

In June, Christie signed a measure raising government workers’ costs for pensions and health insurance, which he said was needed to reduce a projected $54 billion unfunded liability.

The governor this month has urged the Democratic-led Legislature to pass his ethics proposals before the Jan. 9 end of the legislative session. The measures, unveiled by Christie in September 2010, include an immediate end to holding multiple government jobs and collecting a public pension and paycheck simultaneously.

‘Public Trough’

Governments from New York to California have taken steps to rein in double dipping. Governor Andrew Cuomo in July signed a law allowing New York state’s comptroller to suspend or recoup pension payments when a retiree exceeds earnings limits in a government job. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed limiting the number of hours public employees can work while collecting a pension.

While it’s legal in New Jersey to collect a public pension and paycheck, retirees seeking additional income should be required to get a nongovernment job, said Michael Riccards, executive director of the Trenton-based Hall Institute of Public Policy, which has advocated for greater state payments into the pension fund.

Christie’s assertion that the practice is acceptable in Goetting’s case is “a distinction without a difference” Riccards said.

“It just continues to convey the impression that New Jersey is a gigantic public trough for these people,” he said. “A person collecting a pension should not be in public service.”

Question of Consistency

“Absolutes” such as a full ban on double dipping can haunt politicians, said Deborah Howlett, president of Trenton- based New Jersey Policy Perspective, which advocates for more transparency in government. Howlett was Corzine’s communications director.

“The real question is whether he’s being consistent in his application of this idea that people shouldn’t collect two public paychecks and he has to wrestle with the hypocrisy of that,” Howlett said in a telephone interview. “It’s tough to go out and criticize people for collecting two public paychecks when one of your top staffers is doing the same thing.”

Goetting (pronounced “getting”), who was born in 1951, joined the administration when Christie took office in January 2010. He was previously principal and founder of Goetting Ahead, a public-policy consulting firm, according to the biography listed on the state website.

Average Salary

Previous government jobs included executive vice president of administration, operations and information technology for Brookdale Community College from 2004 to 2009, vice president of administration at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey from 1998 to 2002, and deputy and assistant state treasurer in the 1990s.

Public pensions are calculated with a formula using total years of service and an average salary in the final years of work. Goetting’s early retirement deals entitle him to pension that is calculated based on 384 months of public service and a salary of $168,398, according to the state database.

Goetting has been paid pension checks totaling more than $776,000 from the state since his 2003 retirement, based on Bloomberg calculations. Including severance payments from Brookdale and the University of Medicine and Dentistry, his payout totals more than $1.1 million.

Goetting received a severance package of $180,525 when he left the medical school, said Jeff Tolvin, a spokesman for the state-funded institution, whose biggest campus is in Newark.

Avis McMillon, a spokeswoman for Brookdale in Lincroft, said Goetting got a six-month paid leave of absence at his full annual salary of $81,103, another $81,103 for a one-year “transitional sabbatical” and $27,450 for unused vacation.

The severance payments from the schools were reported earlier by New Jersey Watchdog, a news website.

--With assistance from Elise Young in Trenton. Editors: Stacie Servetah, Ted Bunker

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To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: William Glasgall at wglasgall@bloomberg.net


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