Trenton’s Un-Truth about Police and Fire Pensions

BY DOMINICK MARINO

The State’s pension actuary has exposed this simple truth: the State’s own mismanagement is responsible for the unfunded liability in the pension fund for fire fighters and police.

Yet, Governor Chris Christie continues to blame workers for the state’s pension underfunding.

Now everyone knows he’s wrong.  And it’s not just workers who are saying the Governor is wrong. The State’s own expert is saying it: if the state had paid into its police and fire pension fund, instead of constantly skipping payments, there would be no issue with the fund.

When Governor Christie began pointing his finger at public employees, many people were eager to accept his fiction as fact. But, the Governor has neglected to tell people that the State routinely failed to make payments into the pension plans for more than 15 years, while fire fighters and police officers made their payments.

The Governor has made the situation even worse by not making any contribution in this fiscal year.   For next year, the most the State will pay is 1/7th of the legally required contribution, and the Governor won’t even commit to that.  Now, the Governor and his allies want us to believe they have a plan to save the system when they will not make the contributions that are necessary and will not acknowledge the truth that the State’s actuary is telling.

The Governor and his political allies in the Legislature have introduced a plan that continues to blame workers and that does not guarantee adequate State funding.  Their answer is to, among other things, cut benefits for fire fighters and police officers, even for those fire fighters and police officers who suffer serious disabling injuries on duty. That same plan requires that fire fighters and police officers would have to work, in many cases, until they are 60 to get their full pensions. Fighting fires and protecting the public is physically demanding work. Requiring fire fighters and police officers to work to a certain age is not logical and is detrimental to their health and hazardous to yours.

We so desperately want easy explanations for complicated problems that did not happen overnight. We want someone to blame and a quick fix.  But, pointing fingers at workers doesn’t solve anything, and there is no quick fix for this problem.

Fire fighters are willing to do our part to help this great state rebuild the funding in the pension plans.  We know it won’t happen overnight.  The starting point is that Governor Christie should do his part, and it starts with listening to the advice of his actuary, making payments into our pension fund and honoring the commitment to those on the frontlines.

Dominick Marino is president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, which represents over 3,000 fire fighters and paramedics in the state.