by Deborah Howlett/The Star-Ledger
New Jersey lawmakers receive $110,000 annual allowances to hire the aides who run their offices, handle constituent complaints, even drive them to and from appointments.
Some legislators prefer a few well-paid professionals, while others hire larger staffs with small individual salaries. Often they use the money to reward friends and political allies with a little extra income — and, more important, state health insurance and pension benefits.
A Star-Ledger review of legislators’ payrolls found a system peppered with county party leaders, local politicians and their relatives, and part-time workers chalking up credit toward government pensions.
Among the 705 people employed by the 120 members of the Senate and Assembly, more than a quarter are paid just enough to reach the threshold for pension credit or health benefits. Forty-four aides hold other government jobs, and 23 either hold elected or appointed office or are related to someone who does.
These low-paying jobs can yield big perks and benefits.
Workers earn pension credit starting at $1,500 a year. At $10,000 to $15,000 a year, a worker is considered full-time and eligible for the state’s generous fringe benefits package. These benefits include medical and dental coverage as well as a prescription drug program.
Some of the more striking examples include:
– Passaic County Administrator Anthony DeNova makes $4,000 as a part-time aide to Sen. John Girgenti (D-Passaic) in addition to his $131,600 county salary. Gerald Volpe, the county’s $104,880-a-year purchasing director, picks up an additional $3,000 as an aide to Girgenti.
– Charlotte DeFilippo earns $132,910 as director of the Union County Improvement Authority. She is also the Democratic Party chairwoman for the county — and is on Democratic Assemblyman Neil Cohen’s legislative payroll for $10,000.
– The Sussex County Republican Party’s vice chairwoman, Joan Kubik, was on the payroll of Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R-Sussex) for 13 years until she retired this summer at a yearly salary of $24,400, Gregg said.
– Jack McGreevey, the father of former Gov. James E. McGreevey, has been an aide to Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) since 1994, at $15,000 a year.
– Roseland Mayor John Arvanites is on the payroll of Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), earning $2,000 a year.
– Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale’s daughter, Francesca, was an aide to Assemblyman Alfred Steele (D-Passaic) — who in turn was employed by Speziale as an undersheriff. That was before Steele was arrested in a federal corruption sting this fall and resigned both offices. Passaic County Democratic chairman John Currie also was on Steele’s payroll, for $1,500 a year.
– Assemblyman Tom Giblin, the former Essex County Democratic chairman, hired the current county party chairman, Phil Thigpen, as his policy adviser at $13,013 a year.
Thigpen said he worked hard and probably deserved more money. “If he wanted to give me a raise, I’d take it,” Thigpen said.
Instead, after inquiries from The Star-Ledger, Giblin said he notified the state he’s removing Thigpen as an aide effective at the end of the year. He said Thigpen would take an immediate leave of absence and begin paying for any health insurance benefits.
Giblin said Thigpen’s job was legitimate but he cut it as a cost-saving measure.
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