TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880/AP) — Public toll money is being used for turnpike workers’ bowling leagues and for all kinds of bonuses that have nothing to do with performance, according to an audit released Tuesday by the New Jersey state Comptroller.
In the past few years, with the economy reeling, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority gave out bonuses totaling $30 million.
Comptroller Matt Boxer spoke with WCBS 880 about the findings.
Boxer said the money was going to “a lot of different places that it shouldn’t have been going.” Boxer said as tolls were going up at the Turnpike Authority, employees were being overpaid.
“In total, over $40 million of waste,” Boxer said.
Boxer said that the added perks were negotiated into employees’ contracts “for the most part.”
“Collective bargaining agreements with the authority and its employees contained these bonus provision payments. Management at the authority was “piggybacking” off of those same bonus payments,” Boxer said.
Boxer questioned whether management was able to able to negotiate the contracts in the public’s interest when they were also beneficiaries.
Employees were given bonuses for working on their birthdays, holidays and removing snow in addition to overtime pay.
Public toll dollars were also used to fund:
-An employee bowling league totaling $12,000.
-Scholarships for children of authority employees totaling $89,000.
-Costs for a toll operators event that none of the authority’s employees actually attended totaling $10,000.
-Free E-Z Pass transponders to commute to and from work without incurring the cost of any tolls on the Turnpike or Parkway, at an estimated annual cost of $430,000.
The audit is likely to anger taxpayers in the state and raise questions over why it took so long to uncover the wasteful spending.
“That’s the problem with non-transparent compensation,” Boxer said, “You really have to dig into the documents, peel back the layers of the onion to really see the extent of the compensation.”
Boxer recommended that the authority end the practice of giving non-merit-based bonuses. That would mean some employees would no longer get a longevity bonus of up to $600 for each year of service when they resign or retire. They also would forfeit bonuses of $25 to $100 for working holidays and up to $1,700 per season to plow snow.
Though longevity bonuses are being phased out, 1,400 employees still received them at a cost of nearly $12 million in 2008 and 2009.
Bonuses can balloon payouts at retirement. For example, a property inspector who retired in 2008 with a base salary of $73,469 walked away with $321,985 extra after payouts for sick leave ($143,806), vacation leave ($87,380), voluntary separation ($53,497), separation bonus ($24,600), unused vacation ($7,559) and longevity ($5,143) were calculated.
The audit found that the agency overspent by not shopping around for employee health insurance. Boxer’s report shows the authority could have saved $4 million this year alone had it enrolled in the state’s health insurance program rather than a self-funded plan.
WCBS 880 reached out to the Turnpike Authority for comment, but they have yet to respond.
However, in its official response to the audit, the authority said bonus payments were made according to negotiated contracts. It said there is no evidence that executive management negotiators didn’t try to broker the best deal for the authority despite their own employment deals.
The authority said the auditor’s recommendations would be considered.
All the collective bargaining agreements expire next year.
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