|NJ Assistant Attorney General Jean Reilly gestures towards the plaintiff's attorneys as she makes her arguments before Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson who ruled today in favor of Governor Christie's grab from the state pension fund to balance the state budget. Trenton, NJ 6/25/14 (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
NJ.com - Monmouth County Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon's recent op-ed calling for more changes to New Jersey's pension system clearly demonstrates he and his Republican colleagues may not be qualified to serve on the Senate and Assembly budget committees. O'Scanlon writes he has to "tell it like it is," then proceeds to tell it like it isn't.
O'Scanlon's statement that "there is no mathematical way to fix the system" is blatantly untrue. State Supreme Court Judge Mary Jacobson, who in February ruled Gov. Chris Christie illegally failed to fund pensions in fiscal year 2015, said the governor never looked at alternatives to funding the pension system.
O'Scanlon also writes, "Had we had the growth over the past several years -- that was fair to assume we would back in 2011." This is the most telling sign that O'Scanlon, and possibly other Republican members of the legislative budget committees, and the governor have absolutely no budget acumen when projecting future revenues. The governor projected growth triple that of surrounding states despite warning from the Office of Legislative Services that was unlikely to happen.
O'Scanlon tries to blame the pension shortfall on other politicians during the 20 years prior to the 2011 reforms, but exonerates himself, Gov. Christie and other Republican members of legislative budget committees despite them refusing to fund the pensions fully according to law.
O'Scanlon says he and other Republican budget committee members were acting in good faith in 2011 when they passed pension reforms. Their good faith was short-lived when unrealistic tax revenues didn't materialize. Now they argue that their "good faith" pension fix was unconstitutional and should not be followed. It's not that the governor couldn't keep his promise, he simply refused to do so. Democrats put the money in the budget and the governor took it out.
In 2011 the governor and the Republican legislators were sure they had fixed the pension problem. Now they claim they didn't fix it, but are sure they can fix it on a second try. Were they wrong then or are they wrong now? If they were wrong then, why is the governor campaigning in far-away states saying he got it right in 2011?
Were they wrong then or are they wrong now?
In the real world, of businesses and home budgets, if you project income incorrectly you don't get a do-over. Republican members of the N.J. Legislature who loyally support the governor's illegal and unfair proposal to cheat public employees by calling for even more pension givebacks should be voted out of office. They clearly are not representing the teachers, police officers and other public employees who reside in their districts. They are representing only the governor's interests - and his White House ambitions. Gov. Christie and current Republican legislators who support his new pension proposal no longer have credibility on the pension funding issue that Judge Jacobson called, "a string of broken promises."
The increased pension contributions by employees mandated by the 2011 pension reforms shockingly were not placed into the pension funds, but were used to fund the general state budget and other items. Everyone had believed the monies were going toward pensions.
Public employees are now paying a "special tax" of 1.5 percent increase from their income to the general treasury that all other N.J. residents are not paying. Why did the governor, with the support of Republican legislators, allow tax discrimination against a specific group of taxpayers? Where is the shared sacrifice?
Why is cutting the pension contribution the only budget item on the table? Did the governor deliberately leave pensions as the only unpaid state obligation so he could rival Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a union-buster and gain national attention among Republicans?
Even Republican legislators last year overwhelmingly passed a bill to make quarterly pension payments by the state mandatory, but the governor vetoed it and most Republican senators flip-flopped and wouldn't override him.
"Unsustainable" is a political buzzword used by Gov. Christie and the Republican legislators to describe the pensions, but it is simply untrue. The 2011 pension reforms made the pensions sustainable, both the governor and Republican legislators said so.
Edward Buttimore is a former administrator of investigations in the N.J. Attorney General's Office, Criminal Division.
This article appeared on NJ.com authored by Edward Buttimore.