Pfeiffer: Gov. Murphy vetoed a 20-year service pension bill for police and firefighters. Here’s why

A bill to allow police officers and firefighters with 20 years of service to retire early with a reduced pension, regardless of their age, was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy, who said he wants more clarity on how the legislation would impact the state pension system.

Murphy returned the proposal to the state Senate on Monday and recommended temporarily extending a bill he signed into law in 2021 for three more years, to better understand the financial effect of the law.

“We really don’t know what those costs are going to be, or how to project them out, because you’re talking about individuals making life decisions. You really don’t know how many people will take advantage,” said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University. “We only have two years’ experience, and that was piled on top of COVID. It could be a big number, or it could be a small number.”

The bill’s supporters, including public safety workers’ unions, had argued the so-called “burnout bill” would help people struggling with stress or the physical demands of the job.

“At a time when law enforcement has become more hazardous, more stressful and more unappreciated as ever before, this retirement option will give a level of peace of mind to our members who have been ‘burned out’ by the job,” the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association said in a statement when the 2021 bill was signed.

But Pfeiffer said there are other ways to help workers dealing with stress or burnout.

“Officers are under a lot of stress. It’s a tougher job to do,” he said. “But if we’re concerned about stress, maybe we need to look at other solutions — counseling, the way shifts are assigned, management practices — to help officers who find themselves in stressful situations. Retirement doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems.”

NorthJersey.com, May 20, 2023