NEW JERSEY – The head of the state’s police unions today slammed Gov. Chris Christie over some $50 million in what he called “pension giveaways” to local municipalities.
The giveaways, state Policemen’s Benevolent Association head Anthony Wieners said in a scathing release, were gained on the backs of the state’s public sector unions.
“While the governor continues to campaign that the state pension system is ‘unsustainable’ and in need of reform, he himself is intentionally weakening the (Police and Firemen’s Retirement System) by waiving an additional $50 million in local government’s pension obligations,” Wieners said following the release of the PFRS actuary report. “In doing so, he is continuing the same fiscal mismanagement and sleazy games that underfunded the pension fund for over a decade and that led to the situation we are in today.”
During his annual budget address, Christie lamented the cost of sustaining pension and healthcare benefits for retirees saying the system was unsustainable without further reform. He challenged the state legislature to work with him to shore up the system.
“Though the historic 2011 reforms we enacted together immediately reduced New Jersey’s state and local unfunded pension liabilities by 32 percent, it just doesn’t go far enough,” Christie said in his address. “Without additional reforms, New Jersey taxpayers still owe $52 billion to fully fund the pension system. With our long-term obligations only set to increase in the coming years, the problem isn’t going away by itself.”
But Wieners said since the passage of the pension reform bill nearly three years ago, the administration has offset the increased employee contributions with reductions on the local level contribution, in effect taking contributions from members of the system and handing them to local governments.
“This giveaway to local governments disguised as property tax relief was generated from funds taken out of the pockets of retired and active law enforcement officers, who saw their pension contributions rise, their (cost of living increases) eliminated and their benefits cut,” Wieners said. “The state PBA is sick of politicians who use our pensions as a slush fund and then complain that our benefits are no longer affordable.”
The problem arises, said PBA Vice President and Pension Coordinator Pat Colligan, because the law did not include a provision for what to do with the savings achieved by the reforms. But with the governor once again saying the pension system is broken and unsustainable, Colligan said, the money should be pumped back in.
“We keep hearing about what dire straights the pension fund is in,” he said. “Well how about keeping it in the system to help shore it up.”
Update: A spokesman for the Treasury Department issued the following statement in response to the PBA’s claims:
“The change in methodology in this year’s actuarial report, which was approved by the PFRS board including two PBA representatives Monday, makes the system’s methodology consistent with what is standard in the industry,” said spokesman Chris Santarelli. “The result of this change had no significant impact on the funded level of the local component of the PFRS relating to FY2014,the first year impacted by the change, which remains at 77.6%. Additionally, the slight reduction in future asset growth of the plan will be offset by the anticipated slower growth of plan liabilities resulting from Chapter 78’s changes in plan benefits applicable to future members of the PFRS.”