Tag Archive: featured

Our Rocky Horror Budget Show

“It’s astounding. Time is fleeting.”  Gov. Christie submitted his budget in February. Then with about four months to reply, the legislature waited until the last moment and as of this morning has only provided an outline of its response. The fact that legislators might have wanted to wait for the Supreme Court ruling on Pen/Ben is irrelevant as what they have proposed includes the Pen/Ben contributions that would have been in the budget regardless. The plan is to approve the budget in committees today. (It will be broadcast on the legislative website starting at about 10:00 am.) There will be voting on Thursday, and then the package will be delivered a few hundred feet away to the governor’s office.

“Madness takes its toll.” The legislature has made line item increases and decreases in the budget, but people who depend on funding know little about what the they are, and there is no time left for public comment. We do know that more than 2,000 contacts were made between registered lobbyists and state officials that are influencing the 2016 budget talks.

“Let’s do the Time Warp: It’s just a jump to the left.” That’s where we are now with the legislature’s proposal.

“And then a step to the right.” That will come from Christie. And then the dance ends. There is no more “jump to the left.”

“Not for very much longer.” It will all be over by next Tuesday.

“I’ve got to keep control.” That’s Christie. And he will.

 –  From: Time WarpThe Rocky Horror Picture Show

Democratic Budget Plan

Update 3:00pm: The Star-Ledger reports, Democrats are proposing a $35.3 billion budget with $3.1 billion set aside for pensions, in contrast to Christie’s $33.8 billion spending plan which included $1.3 billion for pensions. New proposed revenue sources include a tax hike on income over $1 million and a 15 percent corporation business tax surcharge.

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In a press release this morning Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen) announced that the Democratic budget will make a FY2016 pension repayment of $300 million as an FY2015 supplemental appropriation based on stronger-than-expected June tax collections.

The $300 million prepayment, funded out of FY15 revenue, is in addition to the $212 million that Governor Christie committed to add to the FY15 pension payment based on this year’s positive “April surprise” surge in income tax revenues.

“Making the payment upfront, rather than next June, will generate more than $21 million in additional investment income over the course of the fiscal year, based on State Investment Council projections,” Senate President Sweeney said. “It is important that we get every dollar we can into the pension system because every $1 we put in now saves us $3 in the future.”

“Democrats are committed to fiscal responsibility,” said Speaker Prieto. “Underfunding the pension payment has put the state deeper in debt, lowered the state’s credit rating and hurt the economy. The state should balance its budget and fully fund its pension obligation, and this prepayment is part of our efforts to fix these problems and move the state’s economy in the right direction.”

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Blue Jersey will have more commentary on the budget which must be finalized by June 30. As of this moment Governor Christie has issued no response to the Democratic plan.

 

The Confederate flag over Flemington, NJ

Last night, Dylann Root – whose Facebook photos show him wearing the flags of apartheid Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa – opened fire on men, women and children in prayer killing 9 in Charleston’s historically-important Emanuel A.M.E. Church. Today, the Confederate flag is flying in front of the South Carolina State House as it has every day for decades.

Here is a photo I took a few minutes ago, of the Confederate flag displayed in a house in Flemington, New Jersey where I live.

That flag in South Carolina speaks of that place, and what its leaders tolerate. My story isn’t about the official flying of that flag; Flemington’s stars and bars are in a private home. But where that flag is positioned to face – a certain business in town – speaks of this place, of some of its people and of who the Republicans in this town are willing to be.

Follow me below the fold; I have a story to tell.

Confederate flag, Flemington, New Jersey

A Damoclean sword hovers over New Jersey’s ACA program

In addition to the marriage equality case, the U. S. Supreme Court will rule this month on the legality of tax subsidies offered in health insurance policies in states like New Jersey which opted for the federal marketplace. The legal dispute lies in the language of the ACA law which seems unintentionally to allow subsidies only to people who buy insurance through state-run health exchanges. The ruling will likely be a close one, and if the sword falls it will wreak a wide swath of damage throughout our state.

The impact would be severe as a total of 252,792 state residents have enrolled for insurance through the ACA federal marketplace, with 84 percent of them receiving subsidies. State residents would lose an average of $3,708 in annual subsidies if the court ruled the tax credits invalid, for a total of $780 million statewide. The loss of these subsidies would hurt people with the low incomes necessary to qualify, and it would render many unable to pay the full monthly cost resulting in losing their insurance and reducing access to treatment. Such an outcome would likely also result in higher premiums for all.

The back story: We could have had our own state health insurance exchange with stronger consumer protection than the federal exchange, plus, a $7 million federal grant for implementation. However in December 2012 Gov. Christie vetoed A3186 which would have established a NJ exchange and announced the state would default to a federal exchange. Earlier an interagency working group including Rutgers University had recommended a NJ exchange and prepared the groundwork. However the health insurance companies and parts of the medical community resisted the consumer protections embedded in the legislative bill. They won the day. NJ consumers lost. Now even more consumers are at risk to lose their subsidies because Christie bowed to big spenders.  

Fixing NJ’s pension crisis: Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Cross-posted from Marie Corfield. Promoted by Rosi.

Last week dozens of NJEA members rallied outside the state house to protest the State Supreme Court’s ruling and Gov. Christie’s refusal to fully fund the pension system. The rally/lobby day (there are two more next week) was part of NJEA’s efforts to push the legislature to do something – anything – to stave off impending disaster when the fund runs dry in 12 years.

When the NJEA members drowned out the voice of Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, who was addressing a small group of Americans for Prosperity counter protesters, he responded with this:

“Do you want to yell at me or do you want to have a discussion? Because quite frankly, if we’re just going to yell, we’re not going to get anywhere.”



“This is the type of ignorance and screaming that gets us nowhere. … You have to make a real plan that’s sustainable so, long term, we can take care of our dedicated workers, make sure that the pensions are there, make sure that in two or three or five years from now, it doesn’t fall apart. Screaming, ‘just make the payment,’ doesn’t get me $2 billion.”
(emphasis mine)

Look, I get it, no one wants an angry mob screaming and yelling at them, and when people are pushed, they kinda tend to push back. I’m not attacking Asm O’Scanlon. I have never met him, nor do I have extensive knowledge of his voting record and/or history with public employee unions. From his Twitter posts (more below), he seems like a reasonable guy who is willing to communicate with constituents in an open forum. His altercation with NJEA members is but a snapshot in the larger pension crisis picture.  

“Show me the money”

“We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”
– Pink Floyd

From Gov. Christie we have had enough Republican education and thought control spin. What our state government needs is more revenue.  In the past week he said the Pen/Ben law was excellent, but he does not have the money. He realizes the transportation fund is broke so he scrounges to transfer funds and take on more debt. He says there are other worthy projects, but guess what, we can’t even meet our current obligations. It’s time for him to show us the money.

The basic problems is that our economic recovery is floundering. Until possibly the current year (ending June 30) the governor’s revenue forecasts have exceeded the income received, leading to cut-backs in important expenses. We don’t want more cuts, we want a better economy. He has failed our state grievously – so far “just another brick in the wall.”

Three key economic measures of where we are now:

  • U. S. real gross domestic product (GDP): In the U. S. it grew 2.2 per cent in 2014, but in NJ it grew by only 0.4 per cent ranking our state as 46th in the nation. All our neighboring states did better.

  •  Unemployment: The U.S. rate is 5.4%, but  ours is 6.5% ranking us 44th in the nation. All our neighboring states did better.  
  • Median household income: Since 2010 it has declined 12.2 percent, compared with an average drop of 3.9 percent for the U.S.

    If Christie were head of a large corporation he would be fired. Sure companies sometimes have to cut expenses and they did so during the Great Recession, but to thrive they need to grow their revenue. The U.S. recession is over and corporations are expanding investments to increase return to their shareholders. The New Jersey shareholders deserve no less. (There will be more on how to do this as we approach the budget deadline.)    

  • Poor Christie, he just can’t catch a break

    Even with a seeming court victory over Pen/Ben, Christie is being challenged by those who say it’s unfair and others concerned about the budget and solvency. However, let’s not dwell on NJ where our governor may have a few minor problems, but look instead at the broader nation where he is exciting us with his high-flying efforts to become our next president.

    News flash from Iowa: Republicans there just announced they have cancelled their famous presidential caucus straw poll scheduled to start off the primary season. Poor Christie. He spent many days there wooing listeners with his obvious charm. Alas, it must be noted that Real Clear Politics indicates in the average of the last five Iowa state-wide polls Christie ranked 8th at 4.2%. It’s unfortunate, but as a man with overflowing self-confidence he surely would not find it disheartening. He has so much going for him.

    So now Christie must be excited about moving forward with great success in New Hampshire, the first scheduled primary, and then in South Carolina shortly thereafter. Oh. I now see he is doing poorly in those states as well. In New Hampshire he is ranked 7th at 4.7%. In South Carolina where the state’s very own pride and joy, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is a candidate Christie ranks 7th with 6.3%.

    Poor Christie, he just can’t catch a break these days.

    Pen/Ben: The majority decision we wanted but did not receive

    Below are excerpts from Justice Albin’s dissent of the majority 5-2 ruling of the NJ Supreme Court. Chief Justice Rabner joins in this opinion. This is what we hoped would rule the day:

    “The decision unfairly requires public workers to uphold their end of the law’s bargain — increased weekly deductions from their paychecks to fund their future pensions — while allowing the State to slip from its binding commitment to make commensurate contributions. Thus, public workers continue to pay into a system on its way to insolvency.

    The  Governor and Legislature cannot walk away from the contractual commitments they signed into law in Chapter 78. Their failure to make the required payments into the pension fund constitutes an impairment of their contract with public workers. Even if enforcement of the contractual rights embedded in Chapter 78 were barred by the majority’s interpretation those rights would be enforceable under the Federal Constitution’s Contracts Clause.

    If the past is prologue, the solvency of the pension system is in great peril. The majority declares that the contractual rights conferred in Chapter 78 must be sanctioned by voter approval — a public 41 plebiscite. However, the Federal Contracts Clause was intended to protect contractual rights from the whims of the majority.

    The majority pretends that it is not “declaring Chapter 78 unconstitutional” and that “Chapter 78 remains in effect, as interpreted, unless the Legislature chooses to modify it.”  Words, however, matter. As a result of the majority’s decision, the State’s contribution to the pension system is no longer binding, but merely optional.

    I would give public workers the relief to which they are entitled and send the matter back to the political branches to comply with the law of their making. I therefore respectfully dissent.”

    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.

    After the primary: races to watch

    Yes, we know that in the competitive primary districts there were no surprises, and given the dynamics of these districts the balance between R’s and D’s is unlikely to change. However, there were a few omens in other races. The votes in the primary are not predictive of outcome in the general, but they may provide hints, favorable or unfavorable, about specific races.

    Races that bear watching and would benefit from additional support:

    LD 38: This was the only district where both D incumbents received less primary votes than the R challengers. In 2013 this was an incredibly close race.

    LD 1: A split district where the R incumbent polled well, but the R challenger outpolled both the D incumbent and D challenger. This is a district which previously had two D incumbents and was closely contested in 2013.

    LD 2: Another split district where the D incumbent got the most votes, and the D challenger slightly outpolled the R incumbent and R challenger. This was another close race in 2013.

    To read the still unofficial results for all primary races go to the Division of Elections website.

    Go below the fold to see the candidates and polling results for the above three races.