I asked Wollmer what level of new taxes or spending cuts could make this pig fly, or at least put lipstick on it.
"Everyone talks about the millionaires' tax," he said. "That's $700 million a year."
Sounds good, but that's just a fraction of the $4.3 billion annual payment recommended by actuaries.
Except this just wasn't true. Fellow teacher-blogger Ani McHugh recounted that Wollmer had, in fact, given several other ideas for raising revenue; Mulshine just chose to pretend that he hadn't. Further, when Mulshine was confronted on his omission in the comments under his piece at NJ.com, he all but admitted Wollmer had come up with other ideas, but Mulshine didn't report them because he thought they were "silly."Other than that, Wollmer couldn't come up with any suggestions for big-ticket revenue-raisers. Instead he reiterated the line the union's been pushing to avoid that question. [all emphases following are mine]
Mulshine can characterize Wollmer's ideas however he wants; what he's not allowed to do is say Wollmer didn't have any other ideas. He clearly mischaracterized Wollmer in his piece, and when caught tried to weasel out of issuing a correction.
Well, I guess Ani and I and the NJEA put enough heat on Mulshine that he had to admit he had not played it straight. Because Mulshine has a new piece out today where he once again all but admits he did not portray Wollmer's words accurately. But rather than step up and take responsibility like a professional journalist, it looks like Crazy Uncle Paul is, instead, doubling down on his teacher bashing rhetoric:
I invited Wollmer to give me a menu of tax hikes that could generate that $4.3 billion. Instead he gave me a quote about how the situation had been building up for a long time and could not be solved immediately.
True enough. But that doesn't solve the problem of raising the revenue to fund pensions that the state plainly cannot afford.
Oh, so once again Paul, you admit that Wollmer did come up with other suggestions! So where's your correction? Where's your apology to Wollmer? Where's your apology to your readers?During the conversation we discussed raising the gas tax...
You know, I'm just a lowly blogger, but when I screw up, I man up. I keep my ego in check enough to admit I'm human and I make mistakes. But this never seems to happen at the Star-Ledger's op-ed page. Instead, columnists like Mulshine just dig in their heels and bring on the teacher hating:
During the conversation we discussed raising the gas tax, but I noted that the Transportation Trust Fund is broke. Everyone familiar with the state budget knows that this and prior administrations borrowed so much money for past transit projects that even a fairly large gas-tax hike, say 15 cents a gallon, would not be sufficient to bring the trust fund back into balance.
Furthermore the gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to transportation.
So I was shocked when I read that blog post and read this rather amazing assertion by Wollmer:
The union wants to raise the gas tax to fund pensions.
Seriously. I'm not kidding.
Here's that pro-NJEA blogger's [Ani McHugh's] own account of the interview (italics mine):
If, lord help you, you decide to click through and read Mulshine's screed, you'll notice he does not ever discuss that Wollmer also called for an end to Christie's tax giveaways and a corporate tax. By any reasonable journalistic standard, Mulshine did not accurately reflect Wollmer's words in his original column. Mulshine stills owes a correction, plain and simple, without all the anti-teacher garbage he flings around in this piece."During that conversation, when Mulshine asked how NJ could come up with the money to fund the pension system, Wollmer says he suggested a corporate excise tax, a gasoline tax, an end to Christie's muti-billion dollar tax credit giveaways for zero job creation, and a millionaire's tax–but It seems that Mulshine ignored all but Wollmer's final suggestion."
Before I get to that crap, let's talk a little about the gas tax. Yes, it's constitutionally dedicated to transportation -- but it's not the only tax that is. According to the NJ Transportation Trust Fund Authority, the constitution requires $200 million of the general sales tax also be dedicated to transportation.
Actually, in 2014, $354 million was allocated from the general sales tax to transportation, and $517 million is projected to be allocated in 2015. If we raised the gas tax so that it collected commensurate revenues, those general sales tax funds could, conceivably, be used to fund the pensions. Granted, that might take a constitutional amendment, but so what? It's still possible, and potentially a big chunk of change.
According to the Authority, $531 million was raised on a gas tax of 10.5 cents per gallon (13.5 cents for diesel). According to the T@x Foundation*, New Jersey has the 48th lowest state gas taxes in the nation. If we doubled the excise tax on gas to 21 cents, we would be right at the median for all states in total fuel taxes. That would mean more than half-a-billion dollars in extra revenue.
Now, you might disagree that any of this should go to pensions; that's fine. But you can't deny it is a significant source of revenue, and even if it required a constitutional amendment it is a viable idea. But Mulshine wants it off the table immediately. Why? Because, lord help us all, sometimes teachers move after they retire:
If we are to believe the author [McHugh], the union is actually suggesting that the revenue from a gas tax should go not to repair our roads, with their tire-swallowing potholes, or to help keep down NJ Transit fares, which were just raised once again.
They don't want the revenue to go to people here in the state who desperately need the services.
What a stupid argument. Would it be better, Paul, if pensions only went to teachers who stay in New Jersey? Should we pass a law that requires teachers to stay here after they've worked for years, made their mandatory payments into the pension, and then retired?They want it to go to people who may have retired to North Carolina and Florida.
Nobody denies this state needs to fund transportation. But since when has any state been able to back away from its debt payments simply because it has other spending priorities yet refuses to raise revenues to pay for them?
Mulshine made a snarky comment below his previous column about retired teachers sitting by pools in Florida sipping margaritas. Guess what, doofus -- that's part of retirement, and there's nothing wrong with it. It's not like we can spend the day surfing and drinking beer and then write about it for a dying newspaper; we work, and our pensions are part of what we are paid for that work.
Pensions are part of the total compensation owed to teachers for work they have already done. They aren't bonuses that can be taken away on a whim; they are payment for services already rendered. The notion that the taxpayer pays for public employee pensions is wrong: every public employee pays for 100 percent of his or her** pension, because it is compensation for work they have already done.
As wrong as the last NJ Supreme Court decision was, even they reaffirmed that the state will not be able to walk away from this obligation. But Mulshine wants to try to frame it like the pensions are some sort of a gift that was granted for political favors. That's why he's always going on about the political connections of the NJEA, or retirees living out of state, or some such similar nonsense.
That's why Mulshine avoids mentioning the average annual allowance on the pension is $40K, as if that is some outrageous sum. It's why he won't acknowledge that New Jersey's pensions are already some of the stingiest in the nation, or that teachers are modestly paid compared to similarly educated workers.
Mulshine dares the NJEA to push for a constitutional amendment to fund the pensions and use a higher gas tax to help pay for it. But I've got a dare for him: go ahead and continue to let the wealthy and the corporations enjoy their tax gifts, and let the pension funds run dry. See what happens then, Paul. See if anyone ever works as a public employee in this state again. See if Wall Street ever trusts this state. See if the federal courts let the state get away with reneging on its obligations.
Yahoos like Paul Mulshine are enabling a very dangerous mindset for this state. But what does he care? He'll probably move to Florida when things get rough.
Paul Mulshine (artist's conception)
* "T@x Foundation"? From the early days of this blog...
** As I've noted before: the War on Teacher Pensions is a War on Women.
Do you think that "sipping margaritas by the pool" comment was directed equally at men? If so, you're incredibly naive. Part of the War on Teachers has been an undercurrent notion that women don't really need stable retirements, because their men will take care of the little darlings.
Back in the day, when a teacher dared to tell Chris Christie she wasn't making a lot of money, he told her "well, you know what, you don't have to do it." As if working was, for women, an option -- something fun to pass the time and make a little pocket change before getting back to the house and starting dinner before Daddy gets home.
Oh, yes, I know, I am so completely off the rails here. Obviously this obsession with "overpaid" teachers has nothing to do with the fact that three-quarters of the profession is women. It couldn't possibly be the case that tools like Mulshine and Christie feel free to take their swipes because, after all, it's only the gals...