Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, entered the blame game over the state’s latest credit downgrading today, slamming Gov. Chris Christie for refusing to “accept any responsibility for our state’s awful fiscal predicament.”
“The top three credit rating agencies in the country have seen fit to downgrade New Jersey’s credit rating under Governor Christie’s watch and, yet, he still refuses to accept any responsibility for our state’s awful fiscal predicament,” Colligan, who oversees the state’s largest police union, said. “Somehow, the governor and some members of the Legislature still feel compelled to blame criticism of his handling of the state’s ever plummeting financial situation on ‘playing politics’ while our finances continue to spiral out of control. I can assure you that none of this is about ‘playing politics’ for our members.”
Yesterday, Moody’s Investor Service knocked the state’s bond grading down a step, from A1 to A2, citing chronic budget shortfalls and an ongoing public pension and benefit crisis. The news elicited strong reactions from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with some Democrats blaming the Christie administration for putting payments into that system off, and Republicans blaming the state’s poor overall economic climate.
Christie himself, speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, said the downgrading “agrees” with the latter narrative, which is his own assessment of the situation.
(As lawmakers work to craft this year’s budget, Christie has proposed a $33.8 billion spending plan that would make a $1.3 billion contribution to the pension system, a payment less than half of what is legally required under the pension reform law he signed back in 2011.)
Amid the controversy, Colligan — who argues that the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS), the fund that includes NJSPBA members’ pensions, is financed mainly by local governments, law enforcement officers and firefighters, and therefore is largely solvent — has become one of the most vocal critics of the Republican’s leadership on the issue. Last week, he went after Christie as he made his way up to New Hampshire for a two-day junket ahead of a potential presidential run.
Before that, he criticized the governor over his handling of the state’s pension problems after Christie delivered his annual budget address.
“The current funded level of the local portion of PFRS is near 80% and a basic analysis of the differences in each pension system the state manages shows that it is wildly inaccurate to describe our member’s retirement system as anything other than stable,” Colligan said. “Any attempt to use this latest credit downgrade as a rallying cry for political advantage and partisan gain where the outcome is our member’s paying more money is disingenuous and unacceptable.”
His criticism this time around was perhaps his strongest yet.
“Nine credit rating downgrades under the leadership of one man strongly implies that our state is on the wrong path. Our members already sacrificed once to try and help Governor Christie and the Legislature get the state on sound fiscal footing and we will not stand idly by while we are raked over the coals again for partisan gain and political ambition,” Colligan said. “This is not about ‘playing politics’ for our members, this is about making sure the promise that was made to them and their families when they agreed to take the job protecting our streets and our neighborhoods is fulfilled. We have over 33,000 members and they are out there doing their jobs every day protecting our communities. Our representatives in Trenton need to start doing theirs.”