I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, June 9, 2014

Unions to Corrupted @GovChristie: "Keep Your Promises"

UPDATE, 2:35 p.m.: Six more unions have filed a separate lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie's pension plan. They are the Communications Workers of America, the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, the American Federation of Teachers, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and the Service Employees International Union. A hearing on all the lawsuits will be held June 25 in state Superior Court in Trenton, union leaders said today. 
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to take $2.4 billion meant for the pension system violates the state and federal constitutions, according to a lawsuit brought by a group of public-worker unions and individuals. 
The largest teachers union in the state, the New Jersey Education Association, said today it has filed a lawsuit against Christie as he tries to grab more than $2.4 billion meant for the state’s pension system to balance his struggling budgets over two years. 
Grabbing those funds would show a “flagrant disregard” for pension-reform laws Christie himself signed in his first term, the lawsuit states, and would violate the constitution and the rights of hundreds of thousands of public workers in New Jersey. 
Workers began to pay more for their retirement and medical benefits in 2011, and in exchange, they won stronger contracts with the right to bigger payments every year by the state into their troubled retirement fund. Christie is now breaking his word, the unions charge, while workers continue to pay the higher rates for their benefits. 
Four other unions — the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO — are also parties in the lawsuit, along with 10 individual public workers. 
“Everyone in New Jersey is subject to the laws of New Jersey, including Governor Christie,” said Wendell Steinhauer, NJEA president. “Our lawsuit seeks to hold him accountable to follow the law that he signed in 2011.” [emphasis mine]
Amen - it's nice to see the unions getting a spine over this. And let's get a few things straight while we're at it:

- There is money available for pension payments. OK, I know the millionaires tax would only generate somewhere between half-a-billion and a billion dollars... but, hey, that's better than nothing, and it would significantly cut into the state's obligations.

Plus, we have other ways of generating revenue. Cut back on tax expenditures; rein in corporate subsidies; raise the way-too-low gas tax. As I've said before, I have some serious misgivings about legalizing marijuana, but let's at least have the discussion, and consider some other sin taxes while we're at it.

We're one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest nation on Earth. We. Have. The. Money.

- We should be looking hard at how the pensions are being managed. I've mentioned David Sirota's article for Salon before:
In a radio interview, Christie recently bragged that this investment scheme delivered 12.9 percent returns last year. He didn’t mention that number was well below the 16 percent returns the median public pension delivered, according to Businessweek. Comparing the New Jersey returns with the median, pension consultant Chris Tobe said the gap represents $2.5 billion in returns New Jersey could have generated had it performed like the typical public pension. Tobe estimates that $1.2 billion of that difference came from the fees paid on the hedge funds, private equity firms and other so-called “alternative investments.”
I'm not prepared to say definitively that there's a specific amount of money to be saved on the basis of one article -- but it's sure worth looking into. Especially because the feckless board of the teacher's pension has refused to stand up for the pension's members and retain their own counsel. Maybe some of Christie's appointees to the board are afraid to uncover what's really going on:

Golly, Christie's buddies got to play around with our pension funds? I'm just so shocked...

Speaking of which:

- The state's finances are not the personal plaything of Chris Christie and his cronies. Here's a story from a British newspaper, The Guardian, that seems to have been downed out in the many, many scandals plaguing our truly awful governor: 
Chris Christie’s New Jersey administration awarded a $105.6m public subsidy to a property venture involving a close friend and financial backer of the governor, after state law was amended to enable the project to qualify for the money.
The venture, in one of the state’s poorest cities, appears potentially lucrative for the friend, Jon Hanson, a wealthy real estate tycoon who headed the fundraising operations for Christie's election campaigns, chairs a policy commission for the governor, and is a longstanding Republican donor. [emphasis mine}
I wonder if Paterson's council president, Anthony Davis -- one of the Jersey Democrats who threw his support to Christie -- regrets his decision.

And that's not the only story about Christie's buddies feeding off the public trough that The Guardian has uncovered this month:
A major new shopping mall and housing development in New Jersey, which is controlled by the biggest corporate funders of Chris Christie’s official mansion, has been awarded a $223m public subsidy by the governor’s administration.
Luxury Point, a vast retail, residential and entertainment complex to be built in Sayreville, was last month given one of the biggest corporate tax breaks handed out so far by the Republican governor's state authorities, which are facing a $2.7bn budget shortfall over the next year.
The $223.3m, 10-year subsidy was awarded without fanfare to Sayreville Seaport Associates LP, a corporate partnership that owns the 440-acre development alongside the Raritan river, where construction on a shopping mall targeted at millennials is due to begin later this year.
But a detailed proposal for the $2bn venture discloses that the project is majority-owned by Prudential, the New Jersey-based financial and insurance giant, which has in the past three years given more than $125,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs. [emphasis mine]
The argument I hear from trolls is that these are tax subsidies, so they don't really count as revenue. Which might make sense... if these giveaways actually produced any jobs or taxable economic activity. The problem is, they don't: New Jersey remains the region's economic laggard, no matter how many tax gifts Christie gives his campaign donors.

In any case: Chirstie-style pay-to-play isn't doing a damn thing to help the pensions.

- Never forget: Chris Christie either lied when he said he wouldn't touch our pensions, or is so incompetent he didn't know they were in trouble when it was obvious to everyone else. Christie swears he didn't know the pension problem was so bad: that makes him either a liar or an astonishing ignoramus.

And his mendacity is so blatant at this point that the tide is actually starting to turn. Oh, sure, the comments sections of NJ.com are still full of Christie acolytes, absolutely convinced there are hundreds of thousands of teachers making six-figures (as if), ready to live a jet-set lifestyle on pensions that actually pay out an average around $40K.

But the non-mouth-breathing majority of the state's populace has finally caught on. There is a question of fundamental fairness here: we teachers and cops and firefighters and social workers and DPW guys and all the rest did our part. We lost our COLAs and we're paying more and more into the funds; the deal was, if we did that, our pensions would be "saved."

Everyone can understand the basic principle of a contract: if we both agree to do something, and you do your part, I had better do mine. If I don't, I'm a liar and a fraud and a cheat. I don't deserve a position of responsibility, and I'm not to be trusted on anything.

Am I?

Who are you talking about?!

1 comment:

Giuseppe said...

I can only wish my pension was $40,000. The problem is that so many in the private sector have zero pensions because of the war against the middle class and the rampant wealth transfer from the 99% to the top 1%. Christie and the right wing stir up pension envy between working class people while the hedge fund managers go giggling to their banks in the Cayman Islands. My pension was cut through the elimination of the COLA for the foreseeable future. Public workers have made sacrifices but the big corporations that locate in NJ continue to have tax breaks, tax abatements, sweetheart deals, subsidies and sometimes even get free real-estate as part of the deal to locate or stay in NJ.