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New Jersey Public Workers Retire at Fastest Clip in a Decade

Chris Christie
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, watches a presidential debate sponsored by Bloomberg and The Washington Post held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Oct. 11, 2011. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Retirements among New Jersey state and local-government workers climbed 11 percent last year, to the highest rate in at least a decade, as Governor Chris Christie raised their pension and health-care expenses.

A total of 11,861 people enrolled in the Public Employee Retirement System filed to leave the workforce in 2011, compared with 10,705 applications in 2010, according to state Treasury Department data. Those figures don’t include police, firefighters or public-school teachers.

Christie, a first-term Republican, signed legislation on June 28 raising workers’ payments for medical care and pensions to help trim a $54 billion retirement-system deficit. More than a third of last year’s applications to leave were submitted in June and July. The data also reflect the first members of the baby boom generation reaching retirement age, said Andrew Pratt, a spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.

“People did take retirement because they had enough years and it was a simple calculation of how much they thought they might lose,” Pratt said in a telephone interview. “We can expect as baby boomers age, those numbers are going to go up.”

The 100 biggest public pension funds were set to pay out as much as $200 billion in benefits last year, based on third-quarter Census Bureau figures, as more people retired from government jobs across the nation. At that rate, benefit payments would be 43 percent more than the $140 billion in 2006.

Broader Figure Declines

Including teachers, police and firemen, 19,720 public employees retired last year in New Jersey, the data show. More than 20,000 filed to leave the workforce in 2010 as retirements by educators almost doubled. Christie signed a law that year requiring teachers to allocate 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health benefits. They previously paid nothing.

Retirement among members of the Public Employee Retirement System more than doubled last June in the run-up to Christie’s signing the pension measure, which he said would save state and local governments $120 billion by 2041.

The filings slowed following the signing, though they were still higher than 2009 levels, the treasury data show.

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