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New Jersey Teachers, State Workers and the Pension Crisis

It appears that the voters of New Jersey heeded the call of the newly elected governor Chris Christy to reject the school budget of any district that didn’t impose a wage freeze on its teachers. As of this writing the NJ School Boards Association reported that 58.7 % of the 537 School Budgets that were voted on in the Tuesday April 20th election were defeated.

The Tension between the new Governor and the teachers union: The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) began when the Governor made the rejection appeal earlier this month to voters as well as his introduction of a proposal to reform the State pension system which is in the process of becoming insolvent , by being under funded by approx. 34 billion dollars. It reached its height when president of the Bergen County Education Association Joe Coppola who signed a memo in which he called for “Prayers” for the death of the Governor. Mr. Coppola has described it as a joke but the governor didn’t see it that way and had his spokesperson call for Mr. Coppla’s resignation.

I value our teachers, and public safety officials, they have some one of the hardest jobs out there but in this dire fiscal crisis something has to give, it also points to the bigger crisis of NJ pension liability in general. The call for a one year wage freeze for the teachers and the proposed pension reform are reasonable. Currently most teachers and state workers do not pay into their health benefits the pension reform would require the workers to pay a portion of their salary for these benefits just like the vast majority of the workers in the private sector. It also would limit the number of unused sick days retiring employees can cash out. In the majority of the private sector there are no “Cash Value” for unused sick days.

Since 2001 benefits for NJ government employees and teachers, were increased by 9%, creating an additional $4.2 billion in liabilities in the Pension system. In 1999 the “20 and out” measure was adopted that allowed paid firefighters and local police to collect pensions equal to 50% of their pay after 20 years of service, I cant think of any private enterprise that offers such great pension benefits. Conceivably state workers with today’s average life span can retire in their forties and collect a pension benefit Longer than they have worked.

It used to be that state workers (Public School Teachers, Police Officers etc) were paid below scale versus positions in the private sector but were made a promise they would be taken care of in the “back End” with generous pension benefits but in today they are making similar salaries (Or in some cases more when you factor in their health and other benefits ) and receive pension benefits along with job security that are rarely available in the private sector. In these times of economic dislocation, high unemployment & private sector wage Cuts & Freezes it is unfair to expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for pay and benefits on a higher scale then they are receiving. Its time to ask some sacrifice from state employees and taxpayer shouldn’t be made a slave to the public servant.

And that’s my opinion –D.B.

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