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  • NJ Pension Crisis: Gov. Chris Christie Got What He Wanted | Stoolmacher
    Posted On: Jul 15, 2015
    Irwin S. Stoolmacher

    NJ.com - In a torturous 5-2 ruling the New Jersey Supreme Court found that Chapter 78, the highly vaunted "historic compromise" that the governor and Legislature struck to save the state's pension system, was flawed because it established a contractual obligation to pay billions into pension funds that violates the debt limitation clause of the state constitution.

    According to the New Jersey Law Journal, "the ruling, authored by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, is a clear win for Christie, who will not be required to repay nearly $2.5 billion that he diverted from the pension system the last two years in order to balance the state's budgets."

    The governor following the Supreme Court's ruling, said, "The court's position is clear, as is mine, it is time to move forward and work together to find a tangible, long-term solution to make our pension system and public employee health benefit costs affordable and sustainable for generations to come."

    He added, "In light of today's decision, I urge all interested parties to come back to the table and partner with me to finally solve this problem once and for all."

    The governor was correct that we need to find a long-term solution to make our state's pension system solvent for the state's 800,000 employees.  Based on the clear language of the statute and his public pronouncements we have a solemn statutory and moral obligation to make the agreed to pension payments. The Governor is on record as having said the new law "makes it a contractual right of the folks in the pension system to have those payments made."  

    There is little likelihood that the Democrats in the legislature and the public employee unions will be willing to "partner" with the governor. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who helped forge the 2011 agreement and was totally played by the governor, has indicated that nobody in "their right mind would come back to the table and negotiate with someone that didn't keep the first part of the deal."

    The governor had various options available to him to close the budget gap that would not have had dire consequences to the truly needy or the middle-class -- if he were looking to balance the burden, instead of placing it entirely on the backs of public employees.

    He could have reinstated the 2010 millionaire's tax on those earning more than$1 million annually, implemented Combined Reporting for corporations located in New Jersey, froze the final year of the six-year corporate tax cut plan that reduced corporate taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, imposed a temporary surtax on corporations subject to the corporate business tax, suspended the corporate tax subsides provided by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to companies that relocate from one New Jersey town to another or eliminated outrageous per job subsidies, e.g., $658,000 per job for Holtec to build a plant in Camden.  

    He didn't go with these options because his motivation was plain and simple right-wing politics. He wanted to run for president as an anti-tax, pro-business, anti-union Republican. Everyone across America should take note of his record in New Jersey to see how he would govern America.

    The governor's record is clear - corporate largess and catering to the wealthy is what he is all about. According to both the EDA, which touts his corporate giveaways as a great success and the New Jersey Policy Perspective, which disagrees, the numbers are clear: $5.5 billion has been handed to generally larger companies in either outright grants, or most often, in corporate tax breaks that will reduce future corporate tax receipts.

    The jobs have not materialized. New Jersey has lagged behind the nation and its neighbors in recovering from the recession.

    Robert Hennelly, in a recent story in Salon, titled "Chris Christie Jersey nightmare: Why his state hasn't touched the economic recovery," was on the mark when he wrote: "New Jersey is a state so disconnected from the national narrative of "recovery" it might as well be its own country.... poverty has gone up according to the latest U.S. Census data.... Back in 2007, 8.6 percent of the state lived below the poverty line. That went up to 9.4 percent in 2009 and in 2013 hit 11.4 percent."

    With the Supreme Court decision in hand, our governor will seek the presidency as the true heir apparent to Ronald Regan's anti-government anti-union mantel. He will crow about how he stood up to our state's public employees in the same manner in which Regan did when he firing more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers; when their union declared a strike over demands for higher pay, a shorter workweek and better working conditions.

    What I'm sure he'll fail to say is that our state's public employees didn't strike but rather agreed to accept an increase their weekly deductions from the paychecks in exchange for a pledge from him to make required annual contributions to ensure the solvency of their pensions. He in turn unconscionably reneged on his pledge.

    Stand by for the Governor Christie presidential campaign replete with half-truths, lies, distortions, and exaggerations about what he has accomplished in New Jersey.

    This article appeared on nj.com authored by Irwin S. Stoolmacher.

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