A proposal introduced in New Jersey’s legislature would allow police officers and firefighters to retire after 20 years of service at any age, instead of having to wait until 55 under the current law.
According to the New Jersey Globe, the Assembly Appropriations Committee cleared the bill, which would allow police officers and firefighters currently enrolled in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) to receive a yearly pension of 50% of their highest salary after 20 years on the job – though they would not get health benefits.
Advocates of the bill argue that it would allow officers and firefighters who have spent two “grueling” decades dealing with mental and physical stress to be able to step away from their profession, highlighting the high national suicide rates among officers across the country as a motivation for the bill.
Bob Gries, executive vice president at the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, said at the bill’s hearing, “It’s a tough job we do. Some of us see things that no human being should ever have to see.”
However, New Jersey municipalities and counties opposed the bill, arguing it was too expensive and hurts the fiscal stability of the PFRS. An estimate drafted by the Office of Legislative Services found that the bill could increase the state’s retirements by $413.6 million a year if the bill passed and all officers enrolled in the PFRS decided to retire after 20 years.
The actual fiscal burden would be much lower and dependent on the retirement rate, increasing by $6.9 million per percentage point increase in retirement rate.
Legislators are also concerned about the impact the coronavirus has had on the pension fund, lowering its yield by three tenths of a percentage point since the year before. Analyst for the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Lori Buckelew said, “We really need to get our fund healthy because it helps not only us as employers, but it helps the fund members as well.”
Police unions support the bill, saying that it would actually save the state money, but legislators argued that because most municipalities don’t offer medical benefits to begin with, there would be few savings to offset liabilities.
Furthermore, officers who are promoted to fill empty spaces left by retired officers will receive an increase in salary, thus contradicting the claim that replacements would be paid lower salaries that would save the state money.
Because the cost is pegged to the rate of retirement (which could be affected by the bill, the potential cost is largely uncertain, and some legislators are wary.
Since it has already won approval by the Senate, if it passes through the assembly, it will end up at Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.