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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

World's Worst Editorial

Here's my vote, from the Asbury Park Press:
“The governor has proposals on the table that would cost the average teacher between $6,000 and $7,000 a year,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said. “We have a lot of talk about shared sacrifice, but it’s public employ ees being asked to make all that sacrifice.” Baker missed a couple of points here in his leaps of logic.
First thing to notice: the APP does not dispute Baker's claim. Teachers make a median salary of about $57,000. And that's before taxes; Baker is talking about a cut in take-home pay, so we're really talking about salary cuts of 12-20%. Add to that the loss of the value in pensions (which are really deferred compensation) and we're talking a serious hit for educators.

How does the APP feel about that?
First, the private sector has indeed made plenty of sacrifices over the last few years. Pensions are a thing of the past for many private-sector employees, replaced by 401(k) plans.
If ONLY I had a 401(k)! If ONLY I got a match from my employer! If ONLY I could CHOOSE how much to put away for my retirement!

Get this straight - pensions are MANDATORY for teachers! 5.5% goes into the pension no matter what! And the states and towns have opted NOT to contribute to the funds for nearly 20 years.

As David Cay Johnston points out, pensions are designed to save taxpayers money - it is deferred compensation that public employees are willing to take to offset lower wages up front. Take pensions away, and you will pay more to retain the talent you need in salary. Further, you won't have market gains to help you offset your labor costs.

So grousing about pensions is ridiculous. It's also unethical: the taxpayers made a deal with public employees. Those employees have planned their lives around that deal being kept. To renege now is unconscionable.
Second, layoffs and furloughs were the byword for the last several years in the private sector — and in some cases, still are. And even when folks managed to keep their jobs, raises were minuscule if not nonexistent.
And the answer to this is to radically CUT teacher wages?!?
At the same time, the NJEA bemoans the fact that yearly salary increases fell from an average 4.68 percent in 2004-05 to 3.58 percent in 2010-11.
What a load of crap. Contracts settled since last spring are down to an average 1.6% increase. Why the difference?  Because teacher contracts run in three-year cycles, and some contracts are still in effect that were negotiated two years ago. That average will go lower and lower as more and more contracts expire and come up for renewal.

Further: every new contract will have teachers pay 1.5% of their salary toward their health care. So that 1.6% increase is basically a wash.

And, finally: as I keep hammering home, teacher pay has not kept pace with the average salary in NJ over the last 25 years: the average salary rose 162%, while teacher salaries rose 150%. And, even taking benefits and work hours into account, teachers are underpaid compared to workers with similar education and experience.
Yet, the state pension fund faces an unfunded liability of more than $50 billion, and the health care fund is underfunded by about $67 billion. Christie has proposed increased pension contributions, reduced pension pay outs and a 30 percent contribution to health care premiums for public employees to help close the gap.
The language is Orwellian. "Increased contribution" means a CUT in salary: again, 12-20%. Plus a devaluing of deferred compensation.

Show me the industry that has all of its college-educated workers taking that kind of hit.
But what really throws the NJEA into a tizzy these days is talk at the Statehouse of salary caps for public employees.
If salaries had been capped at 2 percent in 1968, when the average teacher salary was about $9,500, Baker said, salaries would just now be reaching $20,000 a year. And if Henry Ford hadn’t invented the Model T, we’d still be driving around in a horse and buggy. These kind of “what-if?” hypotheticals do nothing to further debate or lead to solutions to very real problems.
This is insane: Baker's point is EXACTLY what this issue should be about. If that salary cap is imposed, what is to stop this prediction from coming true?

Tom Kean had to increase teacher salaries in 1982 for exactly this reason. I don't think it will take even ten years before the teacher corps is so depleted that a similar program will have to be put in place.

By then, however, Christie will have destroyed the pensions, so the money will have to be paid up front. It will cost the taxpayers millions they could have saved.

Or: all the schools will have converted into charters, and teachers with appropriate training and education will be a thing of the past. How will we look compared to Finland when that comes to pass?
Rather than dropping millions into a doomed lobbying effort, the NJEA would better serve its members by facing reality.
Rather than writing ill-informed, poorly-reasoned, and just plain stupid garbage like this, the Asbury Park Press would better serve its readers by studying up on this stuff and pulling its head out of its...

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