Pen/Ben Ruling: Public employees are left in the lurch

PBA President Patrick Colligan responded to the NJ Supreme court decision: “Today’s ruling is disappointing because it fails to make Governor Christie keep his promise to hard working law enforcement officers. The fact is that our members agreed to pay an additional 1.5% directly from their paychecks to fund our pensions as a result of the Governor’s own highly touted pension law. While the Governor promised to use these funds to help secure our pension fund, he is now hiding behind the courts in an effort to continue syphoning these funds for his own political gain. This is not leadership.”

Public employees are left in the lurch. The governor succeeded in his quest of not being required by the Supreme Court to make pension payments in accordance with the 2011 law.

The legislature and governor are being asked by the court to work together to resolve the pension funding problem. The Democratic legislative leadership plans to add to the budget bill revenue enhancements and other fixes to accommodate a full pension pension payment. However, the governor has significant power in the budget process centralized in his office with the ability to certify state revenue and line item veto any expense, and none of his vetoes so far have been overridden.

Hetty Rosenstein, State Director of the Communications Workers of America union said, “I think it’s horrible. But that is what the court has said.” She added union leaders may appeal the ruling to the federal courts or push for a new constitutional amendment in New Jersey to secure pension funding. “We are not going to tear up this pension plan. We are going to win, and we are going to save the pensions for hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey. Anything less would be destructive to them and to New Jersey’s economy.”

A reason for this problem has been Governor Christie’s poor stewardship of our economy. This, as the just published Volcker Alliance Report points out, resulted in “reliance on non-recurring sources, deferred maintenance, underfunding education, short-term fixes, too much borrowing, overly optimistic revenue forecasting, and underfunding of pension and health benefits.” The report also indicates that Christie’s decision to block a pension funding schedule “means retirement liabilities will keep rising and eventually lead to cuts in existing programs unless new revenue can be raised.”

It’s back to square 1.  

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