Pat Wright's Message to NJPSA Members Following Budget Address

Posted · Add Comment
Dear NJPSA Members,
Yesterday, Governor Christie delivered his annual budget address to the NJ Legislature and the people of this state. Instead of laying out an agenda dedicated to growing the state’s economy and asking the Legislature to fund his spending priorities in the coming fiscal year, the Governor spent the majority of his speech touting radical changes he is proposing to our pensions, freezing the current system, and creating a new hybrid plan going forward. While important details are scarce, the Governor proposed a broad “roadmap” for his vision of what this new system could be. 
Like many who listened to the Governor’s address, I was stunned, shocked, disappointed, and angry. On the day following a major court victory mandating full pension funding, the Governor did not propose full funding of the system but instead proposed walking away from our pension system and the state’s funding obligations! To make matters worse, the Governor cited an alleged conceptual agreement with the NJEA on his proposed roadmap. This was news to NJPSA and apparently, to the state legislators in the audience. 
NJPSA wants our members to know that our organization was not a part of any discussions with the Governor or the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission, nor did we have any prior knowledge that the New Jersey Education Association had been meeting with the Pension Commission to discuss any new pension plan. Once again, it seems that politics has been prioritized over the lives and livelihoods of the people who dedicate their careers to public service — educators, police, firefighters, state, local, and county workers. We can assure you that we will investigate this roadmap proposal and strongly advocate for your interests.
To be clear, NJPSA opposes any effort by the Governor or others to avoid the state’s obligation to fund the current public employee pension systems. We urge Governor Christie to live up to his end of the legislation he negotiated, promoted, signed, and publicly championed in 2011. Our members and other public employees have certainly done our part — we substantially increased our payments into the system as a result of this legislation and we substantially contribute to the cost of our health care under changes in law. The State of New Jersey needs to do the same, and do it now before its failure to fund further compromises the secure retirement of hundreds of thousands of New Jersey citizens! 
Less than 24 hours before the budget address, Judge Mary Jacobson said as much, and quite a lot more. In her scathing decision, the Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, including NJPSA, in the lawsuit filed last May challenging the Governor’s decision to abandon the state’s pension contribution obligations under Chapter 78. The Judge ordered the state to make an additional payment of $1.6 billion in the current year, FY2015. 
"The court cannot conclude that plaintiffs' requested relief should be delayed further simply because it may be inconvenient for the Legislature and the governor to go back to the drawing board in the middle of a budget cycle,” she wrote. “In short, the court cannot allow the state to 'simply walk away from its financial obligations,' especially when those obligations were the state's own creation." 
The court ruling was a major victory for all of us in the public pension system. We should not be sidetracked from the central issue of securing full funding of the pension system as agreed to by the Governor in 2011 and reaffirmed by the Court on Monday. NJPSA will continue to vigorously fight any legal appeal to ensure that our pensions are secure. 
Please remember that the Governor’s address is merely the first step in the upcoming budget process. Over the next several months, the Legislature will hold budget hearings, listen to testimony, and then draft the budget for the Governor’s signature.
NJPSA will pursue all legal and advocacy options to ensure our members’ pensions and health benefits remain secure. Discussions must be held in the light of day with FULL participation by ALL affected parties.  
We will work tirelessly to ensure that our pensions are safe and fully funded. You deserve nothing less.
Patricia Wright
Executive Director of NJPSA