The Unspoken Truth About Pensions

The efforts to shift blame to public employee unions for any projected shortfalls in the pension system are the equivalent to calling in a fire alarm on a house that you set ablaze.  The firefighters that I am privileged to represent have been paying their fair share into the State pension system year in and year out!  The same cannot be said for their employers, who for many years during the nineties and into the last decade did not pay their share, and who are now claiming that the proverbial house is on fire. 

When firefighters protested the lack of pension contributions, we were told that the stability and strength of the markets would make up for the lack of contributions because the system was protected and well managed.  And, when dire predictions and alarms were issued by, among others, former State Treasurer Richard Leone in 1995, they too were dismissed. 

The alarm was sounded in 1995.

The State and local governments were mortgaging the future and putting pensions at risk!

Common sense should have taken over and the practice should have been stopped.  But, like many things in Trenton, common sense did not govern.  Worse, the situation has now reached new levels of absurdity. The State, which is making the most noise decrying the state of the pension system, is the worst offender of all.  It has not contributed any money in this current fiscal year, and is deciding whether it will pay less than 15% of its required contribution in 2011-12.  The justification is classic double talk!  Namely, the State won’t put money in because the system has a shortfall into the future.  Well, if you don’t put money in……the shortfall only gets worse.  This is exactly what has been happening for years.  If Governor Christie is truly sincere about fixing the pension crisis, then he should not make it worse. 

There is a way to solve this and it requires commitment, sound investments and regular contributions.  The local governments have shown the way in part, as they have been steadily increasing their contributions to where they will now be at 100% of what is required.  This is due to a legislative framework that was put together by an administration and legislature that worked with labor to address this problem, and which followed through with Local government employer contributions.  The plain fact is that this works because the level of funding in the largely local employer-based Police and Firefighter Retirement System (PFRS) is stronger than in the State-supported systems.

This progress is threatened by the current administration’s effort to demonize the men and women who fight fires, who rescue citizens, and who protect the public.  It is threatened by the State’s radical agenda to starve resources and aid from cities and towns, which has resulted in cuts in services with no benefit to taxpayers.  And, it is threatened by the false claim that the pension system is “broken” so we shouldn’t contribute to it, when the past few years shows that contributions by employers can and will improve the system.  Most of all, it is threatened by the “can’t do” attitude of the current administration that we can no longer honor commitments made to men and women who put their lives on the line every day for the citizens of New Jersey.  

 

The PFANJ represents 3,300 fire fighters and paramedics in New Jersey. It is the state association in NJ for the IAFF, headquartered in Washington, which represents more than 297,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics. The IAFF is the leading advocate in North America for the health and safety of first responders. More information is available at www.iaff.org