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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No Credibility Left For Tom Moran and the Star-Ledger Editorial Board


Many of you will be surprised to hear this, but I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Tom Moran, Editorial Page Editor of the Star-Ledger. His newspaper is a fiscal trainwreck, heading for the same fate as its sister paper, the New Orleans Times-Picayune (although it's hard to imagine anyone in Newark rallying to "save" the S-L like they did for the T-P in the Big Easy). He's thrown in with Newark's State Superintendent, Cami Anderson, even as the Anderson continues to make rookie mistakes, anger parents, and alienate the community.

And now Chris Christie and his administration have spun so out of control that even Moran has to concede his board's ludicrous endorsement of Christie for governor was "regrettable":
Even before this scandal train got rolling, this endorsement was a close call and a split vote among the editorial board. We regard Christie as the most overrated politician in the country, at least until now, a man who is better at talking than governing. We criticized him for trashing the working poor, for his tea party approach to the environment, for his opposition to gay marriage and a livable minimum wage. And so on.
But there is more to it. Christie has made good progress on education with a focus on struggling cities, especially Newark and Camden. His pension and health reforms helped contain public costs that were spiraling out of control.
And let’s not forget his opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono. She was not up to the job of being governor — even in the view of many Democrats. She got the party’s nomination because more credible candidates, including Cory Booker, backed out in the face of Christie’s strength.
I am continually amazed at Tom's ability to put so much ill-informed nonsense into so few words.

- There has been no "progress on education" in Camden and Newark, but it doesn't surprise me to read Tom claiming otherwise: he doesn't even know which schools are in which cities (it's been over two years since that editorial came out, and Moran still hasn't issued a correction stating Camden Street Elementary is in Newark, not Camden).

Camden's schools are being run by a very young man who would be unqualified to run almost every other district in the state, as he doesn't hold the proper certification, nor has the appropriate experience, nor has any degrees in education. America's most dangerous city is making room for an expansion of charter schools, run by people who give their boyfriends wildly overpaid jobs, or who are under investigation in other states for outrageous practices, even as they work political connections to enrich themselves at the public trough.

Newark, after nearly 19 years of state control, is selling its capital assets to profit-making entities tied to the city's charter school sector, even as its other schools are crumbling. The charters in Newark are the biggest cream-skimmers in the state; some of the ones being held up for praise are engaging in astonishingly high rates of student attrition. Meanwhile, the elected school advisory board, the elected city council, the students, the teachers, and the parents have all roundly rejected the leadership of State Superintendent Anderson.

There is also the matter -- never mentioned by Moran, so far as I've ever seen -- of the racist and classist double-standard New Jersey has when it comes to state control of local school districts:

We don't talk about such things in the state's largest newspaper's op-ed pages; that would, after all, be impolite...

- Have Christie's "pension and health reforms helped contain public costs that were spiraling out of control"? Well, there's no denying that they've certainly shifted more of the costs on to public employees. But has Christie "contained" costs?

A Moody’s Investors Services report — using what Moody’s says is more accurate calculations than the state’s — ranks New Jersey’s seven public employee retirement plans as having the fourth highest unfunded liability total in America (behind Illinois, Connecticut and Kentucky).

New Jersey’s own official numbers are hardly reassuring. A state Treasury Department report (June 30, 2012) said the state’s pension plans covering 780,000 employees and retirees were pledged to pay out, over the long term, $41.7 billion in pension checks which the state lacks revenue to cover.
By the state’s own calculations, the pension plans are only 67.5 percent funded for the long term. The ideal level of funding, many pension actuaries say, is around 80 percent.
Now another analysis gives an even more ominous assessment of New Jersey’s public-sector pensions which include plans for teachers and police.
State Budget Solutions, a fiscally conservative research group, reports that by its reckonings New Jersey’s unfunded pension liabilities come to a massive total of $171.67 billion. That’s a sum equal to $19,366 for every man, woman and child in the state.
The research group says New Jersey’s public-sector retirement plans are only 34 percent funded for the long term. (That overall national figure is 39 percent, according to State Budget Solutions’ calculations.)
State Budget Solutions’ $171.67-billion unfunded liability figure for New Jersey is a sum equal to 33 percent of New Jersey’s gross state product or total state economy. The research group says that percentage figure puts New Jersey is the top tier of a dozen states with gravely underfunded pensions. [emphasis mine]
Maybe I missed it, but you'd have thought that someone would have asked Chris Christie, prior to his coronation, how he planned to ramp up to $5.5 billion payments by 2018. Tom Moran himself said Christie's plan was going to free up state and local budgets for spending, neglecting to point out the payments that would be due in just a few short years. Again, it's apparently impolite to broach such subjects.

So, no, the costs weren't "contained" on pensions; they were shifted, but the bill for New Jersey's two decade pension holiday is still due, and there's no way public employees are going to pay for all of it.

Meanwhile, health care premiums continue to soar; a recommended 8.1% this year. Again, more of this has been shifted to employees -- but we are nearing the last stage of the four-year phase-in on employee contributions. What happens then? Does Moran think Christie can get more out of teachers and cops and firefighters? Will Obamacare contain the premiums? Will the employee contributions even continue?

Tom Moran, as usual, doesn't even think to ask the question. He sunnily accepts the notion of Christie beating the greedy public unions and saving taxpayers without ever really laying out what the state is in for in the years ahead. This insouciance is fiscally dangerous and highly irresponsible on the part of the editorial board of the state's largest paper.

But that's our Tom.

- I probably shouldn't even dignify Moran's cheap shot at Barbara Buono. The Democrats who endorsed Christie are machine politicians; if Moran really wants to throw in with Joe DiVincenzo -- and all the baggage he brings with him -- well, good luck with that. After all the nonsense that has transpired over the last few months, it's clear that Buono would have been a far superior governor to Christie in every possible way.

That said, it's still worth addressing why Moran ultimately decided against Buono and for Christie:
And on education, the most important issue for any governor, Buono ran well to the left of President Obama. She embraced the state’s regressive teachers’ union and its relentless efforts to protect bad teachers and stunt the growth of even the best charter schools.
First of all, only someone who was completely ignorant of education policy would ever suggest that Barack Obama is some sort of liberal standard for "reform." No one -- including George W. Bush -- has done more to hasten the privatization of public education than Obama and his incoherent Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

What's worse here, however, is that Moran has once again assumed bad faith on the part of teachers unions on the basis of nothing. Wait, scratch that: almost nothing. Because, as I've shown before, pretty much the entirety of Moran's case against the teachers unions is based on one quote from a former NJEA president (yes, former) that Moran won't even put into context.

Moran's unthinking jihad against the NJEA saves him from having to actually think about education: for example, here he once again refuses to understand that the "best charter schools" don't teach the same children as their public school neighbors.

A middle-school child could understand this; Tom Moran does not.

There's an interesting parallel here: Chris Christie's desperate attempts to salvage what little is left of his credibility have made him look increasingly unfit for office. Likewise, Moran's desperate attempts to salvage what little is left of his editorial board's credibility make his writing look increasingly unfit to read. But that's what happens when you confidently opine on subjects that you -- willingly or otherwise -- simply don't understand. 

UPDATE: He's like Old Faithful:
Disappointing how many comments are baseless personal attacks. We can do better than this.

Anyone out there vote for Christie and change you mind? If so, why?

Anyone have thoughts about whether a paper should endorse in a situation like this, where we were picking the lesser of two evils? Do we only endorse when we find a candidate who is close to perfect?

And for those who don't like Christie, take the challenge at the end: Would you endorse him over Ted Cruz in a GOP primary? Do you agree we'd be better off with Christie than Cruz, or Rand Paul?
"Baseless personal attacks." You mean like writing: "...the state’s regressive teachers’ union and its relentless efforts to protect bad teachers..."?

Or when Tom called the teachers of the NewCaucus in Newark "liars"?

Or when he brought up former NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano's "considerable girth"?

That's some really selective outrage over "baseless personal attacks," dontchathink?

Tom Moran (artist's conception).

Note: As always when I link to him: Bruce Baker is my advisor at Rutgers GSE. 


Giuseppe said...

Out of respect for this web site I won't express my true feelings for Tom Moran. His opinions about the NJEA and the pension shortfall are vomitus, to say the least. The only problem with the pensions is that the politicians have not properly funded them over the decades but over those same decades the teachers have faithfully and dutifully (OK, it was automatically deducted from their paychecks) contributed billions into the pension fund. Most of NJ's economic woes are due to the great recession of 2008, the mortgage burst bubble and high unemployment. Moran is a rabidly anti union (anti teacher union, has he criticized the police and fire unions?) corporate lap dog. Moran mocked Vincent Giordano's girth? Ha, ha, too funny, and trash talking Christie is a model of svelteness. Whitman did not bother making contributions to the pension fund in order to give tax breaks to the already wealthy. So hey, let's blame the teachers for that and punish the teachers and other public employees for the sins of the politicians of both parties.

Unknown said...

His column reads like a non regret, regret. Much like the ubiquitous non apology these days, ya know, if I've offended anyone. The guy, like many these days, wants it both ways.

Mrs. King's music students said...

As a rule, I'm first in line to bash NJEA for it's over-the-top high rate of teacher attrition, but Sweeny's recent endorsement of Donald Norcross for Senate President and the revelation of plans for casinos in Camden, Jersey City and Newark (underground since 2011) have knocked the stuffing out of me. To state the obvious, their willingness to sacrifice humanity to satisfy their own greed is beyond my scope. There is no reasoning with political 'leaders' who believe at their core that they are entitled to any profit they can wring out of Camden regardless of the consequences to the people who live there.

Patty V said...

The SL and Tom Moran lost me three years ago and I stated so tonight in his "regrettable" column...I told him he's 'regrettable' along with his lousy reporting skills, can't believe he has a job - someone should have evaluated him. Anyway, Jazzman,been following you all this time and thank you for this 2nd job you hold and your intelligent reporting. I'm a teacher too & man, didn't they blow us back ten years? This new evaluation is insane - loads of unnecessary paperwork - a hundred ridiculous signs in the classroom that the kids don't even read, and teaching in robo monologue to the corporate textbooks - ugh, watch the exodus this June. Anyway I'm also a homeowner in Newark - so I ragged about the essex cristocrats like Booker, Adubato, Joe D, etc. & how they sold out to the risen cow & also asked about the cheating scandal of Adubato's school & how it appeared one day in the SL and disappeared the next....well, just thought you'd like to know how my comment was published for 2 minutes and taken down the next - good ole Tom should be working on Christie's staff - I agree.

John MacMurray said...

"We regard Christie as the most overrated politician in the country, at least until now, a man who is better at talking than governing."

If the contest is still open, I'd like to nominate our (thankfully!)former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As a recently-retired public school teacher (and married to one), I gotta say that "Ah-nuld" was the worse governor we've had since the last Republican.