NorthJersey.com - Earlier this month, Governor Christie held another one of his town-hall meetings. Kindly taking a break from his cross-country White House audition to spend some time New Jersey, the governor used his stop in Sparta as another chance to put his ego on full display. Unfortunately for him, his threats once again revealed a lack of understanding regarding one of the most critical issues facing our state.
As he has done at previous town-hall meetings, Christie spoke at length about the need to further reform the state's pension and health care systems, which governor after governor, including himself, have failed to fund appropriately. Declaring that he is tired of hearing what people were promised when it comes to their retirement security, he declared that "union members will pay the price" in relation to the more than $80 billion shortfall in pension and health care liabilities the state currently faces.
What the governor once again failed to acknowledge is that members of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association have stepped up to the plate and increased our own pension contributions by nearly 20 percent. Additionally, our newest members will receive decreased pension benefits and our members will no longer receive cost-of-living increases to their pensions. We are also paying 35 percent of our health benefits. When you add these reduced benefits and increased costs together, it is clear just how much we have paid.
The governor also continues to dance around the fact that he has chosen to violate legislation he signed into law, and the courts to date have upheld, which would require the state to make full payments into the pension system. When it was politically expedient to support this initiative he championed it and declared it a victory for the overall health of the pension. Now that following his own law forces him to make difficult decisions, ones that may not be viewed favorably by those he believes to be his base voters, he has been dancing to another tune.
While he speaks of trying to bring people together to effectuate change, the reality is that throughout his entire time as governor he has refused to meet with the New Jersey FMBA. It seems common sense that if he is truly interested in fixing the state's pension system he'd want to be talking to those of us that have actually made it work. Not only have our members increased their contributions, but our employers, the municipalities we protect day in and day out, have also made their full contributions. By working together, firefighters, EMTs and dispatchers and local governments have, by actuarial standards, ensured that our portion of the pension system has remained healthy.
Over the past several years the New Jersey FMBA has sought, and helped garner bipartisan legislative support for fiscally prudent legislation to make New Jersey's public pension system more solvent while also being respectful of New Jersey taxpayers. Despite his calls to work together, Christie has consistently vetoed these common-sense reforms, and used his intimidation tactics to effectively force members of his own party to cede their power and refuse to override vetoes.
Our members have paid, and continue to pay, more than their fair share for secure retirements and healthy futures. It's time for Governor Christie to come back to New Jersey and work with the union leaders of the New Jersey FMBA. As long as it's a day I am not in the firehouse, I am, and continue to be, willing to meet with the governor to discuss the fiscal stability of New Jersey's pension system.
Eddie Donnelly is president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.