In the background of the conversation over a
certain bridge, the stage was being set for an old fashioned duel.
On one end of the street stands the embattled governor still
careening downward - albeit slower - in his descent from grace.
On the other, a senate president still stung and
somewhat damaged from a cocktail of working with the enemy - republicans
- and being perceived to have fled from aiding the public service union,
a mainstay of democratic politics.
Unlike most duels, however, one or both of the
shooters here will hit a most curious and impatient bystander: us.
Every member of the Police and Fire Pension System
bitterly remembers Governor Chris Christie's now infamous "Sacred Trust" vow made
to us prior to the first election.
I have repeated time and
time again that the pension agreement made with our members of our law
enforcement community must be respected. It is a sacred trust. Nothing
will change for the pensions of current officers, future officers or
retirees in a Christie Administration.
These words were part of an open letter sent from
then-Candidate Christie to the New Jersey law enforcement community.
Once he was elected, of course, it was a bloodbath. But the bloodbath
did come with assurances that our pension system's outstanding bill
would be settled.
Or so we thought.
On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, Republican Governor Chris
Christie delivered his State of the State address. The paragraphs below
are of great concern to all PFRS members:
We have discussed many
exciting opportunities for investment in our state. K-12 education.
Higher education. Crime prevention. Drug rehabilitation and job
training. Health care. Infrastructure investment. Lower taxes. Job
growth. All exciting, all of which, done responsibly, could make New
Jersey an even greater place. But here is the simple truth. We cannot
afford to do it right now.
Because of our pension and
debt service costs. For the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the increase in
pension and debt service costs could amount to as much as nearly $1
Thatís nearly $1 billion
we canít spend on education. That we canít invest in infrastructure
improvement. That we canít use to put more cops on the street. That
wonít be available to improve access to health care.
These are the consequences
of failing to engage in an attitude of choice. If we continue in an era
where we believe we can choose everything, we are really choosing
nothing. We need to have the conversation now about further changes to
our pension system and to adding further to the stateís debt load. But
the time to avoid this conversation and these choices is nearly over.
If we do not choose to
reduce our soaring pension and debt service costs, we will miss the
opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a
It seems that Mr. Christie is reconsidering the
plan to pay back money borrowed from and owed to the Police and Fire
Pension System as well as other public employee pension systems.
Enter Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Four years ago, Mr. Sweeney and his fellow
democrats from both the senate and the general assembly went along with
the republican governor's proposal on pension reform with the
understanding that the pension payments would later resume.
Mr. Sweeney's response - on the surface - seems to
suggest he is willing to go to battle for us. He even
threatened a complete government shutdown if the pension payments
were not made.
While a shutdown is the
last thing he wants, Sweeney said a promise that he and the governor
made three years ago when they overhauled the pension system to increase
contributions over a seven-year period must be kept.
"We made a promise and
this promise has to be kept. We spread the payments out over seven
years," he said. "There's no pension holidays now. We have to go forward
and ensure the payment."
But last week Mr. Sweeney outlined a new plan which
would impose a zero percent cap on property
taxes. For all intents and purposes, this would result in virtual
freeze on new spending. (The two percent raise once mocked, now coveted
may turn into more zeroes)
At this point it's
difficult to speculate how this will play out, but it will provide some
exciting entertainment for spectators.
I just wish that we were
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