Gov. Christie falsely blames public employees for New Jersey’s fiscal problems
By Dominick Marino | September 28th, 2010 - 4:40pm
Trenton – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ongoing assault on public employee pensions is not just unfair and illegal, it threatens to dismantle a retirement system that has helped to create a stable middle class, the backbone of the U.S. economy.
Christie, stepping up his attacks on working citizens of New Jersey that began during his campaign for governor, now vows to increase the retirement age on public workers, change pension rules and require public employees to pay more for health care.
Christie has joined a handful of other radical right-leaning lawmakers in a nationwide effort to paint hard-working public employees like fire fighters as a new privileged class simply because many of them have pensions as part of their compensation. They want the public to believe fire fighters, police officers and other public employees are to blame for massive deficits in state budgets.
“Christie has painted public workers as villains in the minds of the media,” said Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ). “He is trying to break up every union in the state of New Jersey. If it was up to him, New Jersey would be a right-to-work state.”
But his assault on fire fighter benefits has more to do with his philosophical contempt for public sector unions than actually fixing New Jersey’s fiscal problems.
When Christie ran for governor, he vowed to get tough on the state’s public employee unions. Immediately upon taking office, he proposed 33 pieces of legislation – all intended to weaken, and eventually break, public employee unions.
New Jersey voters, battered by a prolonged economic crisis that began during the Bush administration, elected Christie over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine by a modest margin of 4 percent. Once in office, Christie immediately began his attacks on public workers, nurturing and feeding media stereotypes of government workers as lazy, overpaid bureaucrats.
In Christie’s mind, the fire fighters who put themselves in danger don’t deserve a steady retirement after a career of community service.
As part of the effort to demonize public workers, Christie claims public employees make a lot more money than private sector workers. But his assertion is simply false.
The truth is that state and local workers earn less on average than their private sector counterparts, according to a joint study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security.
That study found that public workers earn 11 percent to 12 percent less than workers in private companies. Health and retirement benefits comprise 32.7 percent of total public sector compensation, compared to 29.2 percent for private sectors workers. Even accounting for benefits, the study found public sector compensation less than private sector compensation.
Regardless of who earns more, public or private sector workers, the handful of troubled public pensions would be in a lot better financial shape if employers had maintained their commitment to pay their share.
Christie, like many lawmakers responsible for helping to manage government pensions, has decided simply not to pay the state’s legally required contribution this year of $3.1 billion. He has brazenly warned opponents of his pension reform plan “If they want to sue me, tell them to get in line.”
The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey is already in that line and will stand as long as it takes to achieve justice. The PFANJ has filed a lawsuit against the state for skipping its payments, part of a costly six-year legal battle with the state.
Christie’s attacks on fire fighter pensions amount to an attack on middle class families of New Jersey. One
fact that has not yet been absorbed by lawmakers and the media covering the pension fight is that fire fighters do not collect Social Security. When the Social Security Act was enacted in the 1930s, it expressly excluded public workers. While Congress has amended the law over the years to include more public employees, most fire fighters remain outside of the system.
“Fire fighters must depend on state and local pension systems for their retirement benefits. Public employee pensions work when they are properly funded. Steady contributions during both good times and bad provide adequate retirement income for tens of thousands of New Jersey citizens,” Marino said. “Christie’s attack on public employees may make good politics in a heated election year. But it is bad fiscal policy. The PFANJ will not let Christie dismantle fire fighter pensions. We fight fires until the public is safe, and we will not stop until this fire is fully extinguished.”
The PFANJ represents 3,300 fire fighters and paramedics in New Jersey. It is the state association in NJ for the IAFF, headquartered in Washington, which represents more than 297,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics. The IAFF is the leading advocate in North America for the health and safety of first responders. More information is available at www.iaff.org
Dominick Marino, President