Following up on an earlier statement clarifying that his organization would “never support freezing pensions for our members who have continued paying their required pension contributions while government has skipped their legal responsibility to do so,” the president of a major public sector union in New Jersey further distanced himself from Gov. Chris Christie’s new proposal to overhaul the state’s pension and benefit system.
Patrick Colligan, President of the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, challenged Christie, a possible contender for the Republican nomination in 2016, to “look beyond his presidential ambitions and to not use this report as a chance to wag the dog to distract from his recent bad press and misguided travel schedule” in a statement this afternoon.
“The State PBA stands ready to work with the Legislature to ensure that our pensions are recognized as healthy but I am not interested in our members becoming another sound bite for voters in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he added.
The organization’s comments come in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s budget address today, during which he unveiled a new $33.8 billion budget and plan to get the state’s pension obligations back under control, partly by freeze existing pension plans and transferring the assets, liabilities and risks of the existing pension and new retirement plans to employee entities willing and able to assume this obligation.
Christie’s address was immediately met with opposition both from unions like the PBA and the New Jersey Education Association, an organization he said he had reached “unprecedented accord” with on the plan — but who blasted the governor just hours later for overstating their support.
Read the PBA’s full statement on Christie’s budget address here.
“I have tremendous respect for Chairman Healy, Mr. Byrne and the members of the Commission and believe them to be honorable in their intent with this report. I can’t make the same statement about the Governor’s intent in demanding more pension cuts to a system he clearly wants to destroy.
Last week during his speech before the State Chamber of Commerce dinner in Washington, the Governor said that the situation regarding the pension system requires “reaching out” and not confrontation. That is a spectacular idea that is 5 ½ years too late. Any honest analysis of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) shows a healthy pension fund that, working together with the State PBA, could have been made even stronger in that time.
But the Governor has more ambition than he does solutions except to once again demand that employees and retirees get less and pay more. If the Governor were truly interested in strengthening the pension funds he would have made his lawful contributions to them and would cease his PR campaign to force the public to hold us as objects of contempt.
The five State and local pension funds should have been analyzed individually rather than as a whole. There is no doubt that the State funded pension plans face serious deficits. But PFRS is for the most part not funded by the State of New Jersey. Our pension system is funded by local governments who are making their payments and which, along with our 10% member contributions, makes it the healthiest employee pension fund in the State. Our pension fund is well funded, heading in the right direction and we are not a part of the State’s pension deficit.
To propose solutions to further reduce employee benefits essentially ignores the math of PFRS and punishes nearly 40,000 law enforcement officers and firefighters who have no part to play in the State’s underfunded pension plans.
It must be understood that PBA members receive pensions, and pay the most for them, to reflect the danger of their careers, the risk from injury, the fact that most officers do not receive Social Security benefits and the safety net of a pension for a widow of an officer killed in the line of duty. There is no “private sector” equivalent to what we do and comparing PFRS to any other pension plan is irresponsible.
An accurate analysis of the pension system proves that PFRS is not responsible for the State’s pension deficit. The State PBA believes, therefore, that the time has come to analyze whether PFRS could be carved out of the State’s mismanagement of the entire pension system.
I therefore challenge the Governor to look beyond his presidential ambitions and to not use this report as a chance to wag the dog to distract from his recent bad press and misguided travel schedule. The future of PFRS is secure as it is and it is dishonest to argue otherwise. The State PBA stands ready to work with the Legislature to ensure that our pensions are recognized as healthy but I am not interested in our members becoming another sound bite for voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.”