June 25, 2015
Reprinted with permission from the NJ AFL-CIO
New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech was joined by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto and leaders of the state’s largest public-sector unions representing approximately 800,000 active and retired teachers, government workers, police and firefighters on Thursday, June 25, 2015, to urge Gov. Christie to obey his own law and fully fund pensions.
"Everyone is obeying the pension reform law – except the governor who signed it,” said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech, who represents one million members and their families. “Retirees forfeited their cost-of-living increases, active employees are paying more, local governments have never skipped a payment and the Legislature has again drafted a budget that includes the entire amount of required pension funding. And now, while the governor continues to break his own pension law by skipping contractually required payments, he is calling for additional concessions from public workers.”
Despite the governor’s rhetoric, New Jersey pensioners are NOT getting something for nothing. The state’s average pension benefit is among the least generous in the country (PERS ranks 95th in generosity out of the 100 largest pension systems)*, while government workers here pay more for health insurance than those in any other state.**
“Once again, we in the Legislature are keeping our commitment to make the required pension payment because it is the right thing to do for employees and the state,” said Senate President Sweeney. “Public workers have made their contributions every year and if the administration had lived up to its commitment, the pension system would be on the way to fiscal health and the state’s finances would be stronger. The failure to make the required payment only increases costs in the long run. Every dollar we put in now saves three dollars in costs.”
The labor movement and the Democratic-led Legislature are united in their conviction that pensions must be funded according to the law. Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto drafted a budget that contains the full $3.1 billion pension payment, and led the way on a supplemental appropriation that would pump $300 million in unanticipated additional revenue into the pension system for next year.
"This is a budget plan built around fiscal responsibility," said Speaker Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). "We need to balance our budget and meet the state's pension obligations, all while advocating for New Jersey's working class residents. With this plan, we are cutting debt, meeting our obligations and protecting core values such as health care for women, quality education, tax relief for hard- working families, job creation and tax fairness for everyone. This is a budget for New Jersey's hard-working middle-class families and their values."
The results of the governor’s reckless disregard for the law and callous disrespect for pensioners are well-known: A record nine credit downgrades under his watch; a record $616 million in fees paid to Wall Street pension managers who performed no better than in-house money managers; willingness to argue against his own law in the state’s highest court rather than honor the deal he signed and touted in a cross-country victory lap; and total disregard for the long-term effects his selfish fiscal policies will have on the public and private sectors while looking out only for his own future.
“We are grateful to our allies in this fight, namely Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto, for their continuing commitment to full pension funding,” said Wowkanech. “We firmly believe everyone should do their part to ensure the future of the pension system – even when the governor who signed the law refuses to lead the way."