Op-Ed: Retirees Suffer After Pension Reform Failures

Posted by on Feb 28, 2016 in News | 0 comments

By Janice DiGiuseppe/Burlington County Times/February 4, 2016

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlan’s guest opinion, published Feb. 1 in the Burlington County Times, which stated that a constitutional amendment mandating pension payments would be a disaster for the taxpayers of New Jersey and for the people the amendment is supposedly intended to benefit, projects more useless political rhetoric.

If agreements made in 2011 were executed due to reasonable economic growth that the legislators and the governor were counting on but did not happen, as O’Scanlan stated, puts forth that the agreement was executed based only on wishful thinking rather than reliable fact-based planning. To execute such an agreement based on a scenario that one hopes will happen, but if it does not, throw out the total funding agreement, is unconscionable, not to mention incompetent.

O’Scanlan said it was to New Jersey residents’ benefit that a payment-mandating constitutional amendment was not in place in 2011. Now it is stated that the 2011 reforms did not go far enough. Setting a precedent, the Legislators and the governor agreed to those reforms but did not comply with their part of the agreement executed in 2011. That is why a mandate is now required. What will be the next agreement that is legislated but then rejected because pre-approved competent planning was not performed?

When stating that the benefits received by public workers are more generous and expensive than virtually all of the private sector workers who are paying the bills, where is the proven documented analysis of such a comment? Are private sector bonuses, permitted performance salary increases, allowed expense accounts, etc. taken into consideration when making such a global statement? An all-inclusive, comparable, documented analysis should be provided. And by the way, New Jersey residents who are public workers pay New Jersey’s bills as well. There are many Pennsylvania residents that are political, unclassified, appointed government representative managers who do not pay New Jersey property taxes and have tax- free New Jersey pensions upon retirement from the state pension system.   The 2011 reform recognizing New Jersey public workers residing in Pennsylvania only applied effective 2011 and moving forward.

Reasonable negotiations for prospective pension adjustments should be made, but not at the expense of the current public retirees, as was done in 2011 with the global removal of cost-of-living adjustments from all retirees.  All public worker retirees prior to 2011 should have been grandfathered in, with the COLA removal effective only to retirees after 2011 retirement.   The removal of the COLA from all retirees sends a message that their hard work throughout the years meant nothing because they are “seniors”. These retirees were cheated out of a benefit that a work employment agreement with the state assured them upon retirement. Most of these retirees have no way of making additional money to supplement this denial of an agreed-upon cost-of-living increase, notwithstanding that their living expenses increase significantly each year. This dissolution under such circumstances was an unconscionable action.

If real money squandering is desired to be stopped by the state legislators, all double-dipping for part-time positions into the New Jersey pension system should be immediately made illegal and stopped for all appointed officials, not only for those hired part-time after 2011, the same as was done for all retirees. Why the difference? Only a full-time position should be eligible for membership in the state pension system, period.  Currently, there are numerous appointed retired officials receiving a pension and simultaneously holding part-time positions, and numerous appointed full-time positions holding many additional part-time positions in state, municipal and local governments, all receiving the benefits of the pension system in those part-time positions if they were members of the system prior to the 2011 reforms.

Poof! How about all the money squandered on the governor’s bid for president, paid for by the New Jersey taxpayers, which appears to be another unrealistic wishful dream?  And what about the money squandered on the “Bridgegate” defense attorneys? Whether or not the governor knew about his staff’s actions related to this shameful action, he appointed that staff. He is ultimately responsible for the actions and the subsequent loss of taxpayers’ funds.

Most New Jersey folks do not want to give the “union” everything they want and pay for it later. That is complete irresponsibility. The planning to pay for an enacted executed agreement must be done prior to implementation, and the acceptance of meeting those agreed obligations is incumbent upon the executors of the agreement. That is what the folks want.

Janice DiGiuseppe is a member of the PSMA Retiree Network.  She was a former manager in the Department of Treasury and a former Committeewoman in Mansfield Township.