Double Dipping Rises Despite Ban

STATE – Last fall, Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law forbidding state lawmakers from holding other elected offices such as mayor or freeholder. At the time, 17 members of the state Legislature were dual office holders. Since then, the number of legislators with another elected job has actually increased to 19.

The problem: the law allowed any legislator with another elected position as of Feb. 1 to keep both positions, and several winning candidates in November’s election opted to take advantage of the “grandfather” clause.

“It’s obvious that half-measures don’t work,” said Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union). “It shows how weak and disingenuous the final bill was that the governor signed.

Corizne said that the bill that reached his desk last summer was “not the bill I wanted” when he signed it, but at the time it was widely hailed as the beginning of the end for dual office holding.

Last year, two dual office-holding members of the Legislature stepped down, and three more left Trenton in January when their terms expired. But more than a dozen members of the freshman class of lawmakers that took office in January held two positions.

Some, such as Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-Sussex), followed the spirit of the ban on dual office holding and resigned from their other positions. Others followed the letter of the law and kept both jobs.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), who is also vice president of Essex County Board of Freeholders, said, “I don’t see any conflict in the two positions. I am retired and they’re both part-time positions and I give full-time attention to them.”

Nearly one sixth of New Jersey lawmakers hold another elected position. Eventually, the dual office-holding legislators will go the way of the dinosaur, but Kean does not want to wait. He is sponsoring a bill to remove the grandfather exemption and give dual office-holders in the Legislature two weeks to decide which job to keep.

“I’m always an optimist,” he said. “I think the people of New Jersey are ready for this reform.”

Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) said Kean’s bill will not pass. “We’ve addressed that issue. We’re moving on.”

Fifteen of the dual-office holding state lawmakers are Democrats, four are Republicans. No Union County state legislators hold other elected offices, but Middlesex County Assemblymen Joseph Vas and Joseph Egan are dual office-holders. Vas is also mayor of Perth Amboy and Egan is a New Brunswick councilman.

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