TRENTON – Unless lawmakers bring back cost-of-living adjustments to public employee pensions sooner, it will be roughly a decade for local workers and two decades for state workers before their retirement checks get yearly increases to account for inflation.

Legislation that would restore cost-of-living adjustments to New Jersey pensions has more than two dozen sponsors in the Legislature and rated a mention at this week’s budget hearings – with the state treasurer cautioning it would come with a big price tag.

State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said if the Legislature restores COLAs now, it would add $3.6 billion to what governments – and by extension, taxpayers – put into the system. But if it doesn’t, it’ll be many years until pensions are healthy enough to be raised, even with the state now finally making full contributions, as recommended by actuaries, for the first time in a quarter-century.

“On the state side, it differs slightly by fund, but it’s 20 or more years to get to 80% funded,” Muoio said.

“You mean it will take another 20 years to get there?” Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said. “… My God.”

Muoio said for the state section of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, PERS, which covers most state workers, it would be fiscal 2044 before the funded ratio reaches 80%.

For the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, TPAF, 2039.

For the state section of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, PFRS, 2043.

For the State Police Retirement System, 2040.

For the Judicial Retirement System, 2047.

It’s a bit better for local employees, as local governments didn't skip yearly payments like the state did: 2028 for police and fire and 2035 for other local workers.

“We’ve got to get to work on this thing and work something better out than that,” said Thompson, who is among the co-sponsors of the legislation that would restore COLAs, which were suspended as part of the pension reform law then-Gov. Chris Christie signed in 2011.

But restoring COLAs would add substantially to what is already a $6.9 billion state contribution to the pension systems in the current budget. The budget plan for fiscal 2023 would repeat roughly the same payment.

“We would see an increased payment by the state of an additional $2 billion,” Muoio said. “And for the locals, it would be an additional $1.6 billion.”

Thompson said “I realize that’s substantial money” but that retirees have gone eight years without a cost-of-living adjustment. It’s actually been longer than that, as they were suspended at the 2011 level.

“Thirty years from the time they retire, they’ll still not get a COLA?” Thompson said. “By God, 30 years of inflation. Now, we need to work something better out to this. I mean, that just doesn’t fly.”

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Thompson said the state should have put $2.5 billion in unanticipated revenue it set aside to pay off bonds into the pension fund instead, erasing a long-term debt with a higher interest rate and a 30-year payment schedule.

He also suggested that the state examine cost-saving changes to the pensions of future public workers, perhaps as a way to offset the cost of restoring COLAs for current retirees.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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Every NJ city and town's municipal tax bill, ranked

A little less than 30 cents of every $1 in property taxes charged in New Jersey support municipal services provided by cities, towns, townships, boroughs and villages. Statewide, the average municipal-only tax bill in 2021 was $2,725, but that varied widely from more than $13,000 in Tavistock to nothing in three townships. In addition to $9.22 billion in municipal purpose taxes, special taxing districts that in some places provide municipal services such as fire protection, garbage collection or economic development levied $323.8 million in 2021.

These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions: