10/22/2010New Jersey Toll Roads Waste $43 Million in Driver Cash
Union contracts allow New Jersey toll collectors to pocket millions in tolls.
Motorists traveling through New Jersey see $43 million of money paid through tolls wasted on the bureaucracy, according to an audit released Tuesday by the state comptroller. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is responsible for running the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike. Its employees took funds from the continuously increasing tolls and used it to enrich themselves in a number of ways.
"While tolls are going up, the Turnpike Authority is overpaying its employees, overpaying its management, overpaying for its health plan and overpaying for legal services," State Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer said in a statement.
The most notorious example involved a toll road property inspector who, without violating any laws, pocketed $321,985 in 2008, thanks to lavish payouts and bonuses offered at the tolling authority. Management responsible for reining in such excesses paid themselves $3 million in bonuses through the same system.
"Rather than set an example, management at the Turnpike Authority chose to piggyback off of the generous bonuses and payouts it agreed to provide its employees," Boxer said.
Those bonuses added up to $30 million throughout the agency -- or six percent of operating expenses. The authority's 2700 full and part time employees are represented by ten labor unions which fought hard to load up their contracts with as lucrative provisions.
Bonuses are paid not based on performance. Rather, they kick in automatically. For example, those who leave the agency after ten years can get a "separation bonus" for quitting. The same individuals had they stayed would have enjoyed a "longevity bonus" boosting their salary by four percent. At fifteen years, the bonus increases to six percent. Toll collectors also received a "bank-out bonus" of up to $1650 if they counted the toll money after collecting it. Working on a holiday or one's birthday also earned a bonus.
Other perks such as free rides on the toll road and spending $12,000 to sponsor an employee bowling league represent the culture of waste present at the authority, even if the cost is comparatively low. The authority could have also have saved $8.8 million had it simply participated in the state health benefit plan instead of running its own.
Unfortunately for the authority's labor unions, all ten union contracts expire in 2011. Governor Chris Christie (R) has made slashing the excessive benefits found in state employee union collective bargaining agreements to be one of the top priorities of his administration. So far Christie has taken the unusual step of vetoing minutes of the meetings of various toll road authorities. The veto prevented a resolution that would have given free rides on the toll road to all employees. Christie also ordered on Tuesday that the state transportation authority eliminate annual payout for unused sick and vacation time.