Shared sacrifice, New Jersey style
June 4, 2012By Rob Tornoe, for NewsWorks
This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.
We hear the term "shared sacrifice" thrown out a lot these days by politicians and pundits. While it seems to denote everyone should give a little to help make things better for everyone, in New Jersey the only ones that seem to do the sharing are the middle and working class.
Last week, a Superior Court judge ruled that retired public employees are not entitled to increases based on the cost of living, essentially freezing annual pensions for at least 28 years.
Now, I'm not the biggest defender of public labor unions in the state. I've railed against the obscene six-figure payouts and $100,000+ pensions some state workers are able to manipulate, and their ability to rake it all in prior to their 50th birthday. But the pension freeze won't hurt them, it'll hurt the average state retiree, the one you never hear about whose average annual pension is only $22,034.
While Christie's plan freezes pension increases and requires public workers to pay more, he continues the precedent set by recent governors of underfunding the pension fund. The state should be paying about $3.3 billion into the pension fund this year. So how much has Christie and the legislature set aside? A crummy $468 million. 2013's budget is better, but even then the state will only pony up about $1.1 billion of its $3 billion bill.
Christie will argue that the state is too broke to fund the pension obligations properly, yet as recently as last week he was out in East Brunswick, pushing his nonsensical across-the-board 10 percent income tax cut that would overwhelming benefit wealthy New Jerseyans at an ultimate cost of $1.3 billion a year to the budget. And for all the tough talk about excessive public benefits and exorbitant salaries, his reforms have done little to stop the age-old practice of double-dipping in the state.
Christie's own deputy chief of staff collects $219,000 a year — a $130,000 salary as a top aide and $89,000 in state pension. Even worse, a criminal investigation is under way involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for making false statements to enable her chief officer to pocket nearly $85,000 a year in retirement pay while drawing an $87,500 annual salary.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently called out Christie as a "phony" due to his budget gimmicks and the failed "Jersey comeback" he's been touting at town halls across the state.
Maybe it makes him popular to Republicans in Iowa who don't care to learn the details behind his fiery rhetoric. Perhaps it causes Mitt Romney to pluck him out of the state to run as his vice presidential candidate. At this point, I'd say good riddance. For someone who calls out President Obama's failed polices every chance he gets, Christie resembles him in one important respect — the promise of change that never materialized.