Union Leaders React to Christie Reform Proposals

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Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unveiled a series of pension proposals that include freezing the current pension system for active employees and shifting them into a hybrid cash balance plan.

Throughout the week, union leaders publicly expressed their thoughts on the proposals.

Public safety unions weighed in, from NJ.com:

Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, noted that as his union is funded by municipalities, it is in far better financial shape than those funds that have been shorted by the state through the years and his members should not face higher costs and lower benefits.

“To propose solutions to further reduce employee benefits essentially ignores the math of (Police and Firemen’s Retirement System),” Colligan said, adding that the plan “punishes nearly 40,000 law enforcement officers and firefighters who have no part to play in the state’s underfunded pension plans.

His derision was echoed by Edward Donnelly, president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.

“We have seen the results of Christie’s previous ‘reforms’, increased obligations to our members, while New Jersey taxpayer’s burden continues to be even greater,” said Donnelly. “Instead of more deceptive back-room deals, now is the time for us to stand together to bring about meaningful changes that save our pension system without further burdening taxpayers.”

Other unions officials spoke out, as well:

NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer claimed the teacher’s union was “deeply disappointed” that Christie “overstated the nature of the understanding” reached with the governor’s commission after months of talks.

“The pension plan’s long-term problem has always been the state refusing to put the money in,” said Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey state director of the Communication Workers of America, “Now, here we go again.” The New Jersey chapter of the CWA represents some 40,000 state workers, as well as 15,000 county and municipal workers.

Read more about Christie’s pension proposals here.

Union Leader Calls Out Christie, New Jersey For Playing “Fiscal Games” That Led to “Self-Made” Pension Crisis

Chris Christie

Patrick Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, has written an op-ed piece in the New Jersey State-Ledger expressing his discontent with the report recently produced by the state’s Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission.

In the piece, Colligan chastises Christie for playing “fiscal games” with the state pension system:

The Commission should tell the public about the fiscal games going on behind their backs. Before the ink was dry on the pension reform law the governor began using increased employee contributions to reduce employer pension payments. When the Legislature tried to close that loophole and use the extra contributions for pension funding, the governor vetoed it.

Add that to the failure of the state to make its actuarially required pension contributions and you have the making of a self-made pension crisis. It is worth noting if full PFRS pension payments were made during the last 15 years, it would be funded in the mid-90 percent ratio and no one today would be discussing pension reform.

New Jersey does a great job of shifting costs to employees without ever tackling the reason for those costs. Health benefits are a prime example. If the state were truly interested in reducing their health care costs they can take a number of bold steps. First, cut out insurance companies and administer its own healthcare network.

Second, rein in pharmacy benefit manager costs. How much do these PBMs make off the state? Requests for that information are repeatedly denied. Contracts for prescription costs should be required to show the true costs and rebates for the medicines involved and how much of those costs are enriching the companies brokering the deals.

Finally, the state has too many health plan choices with no real cost containment strategies. The State could consider innovative approaches to control costs like State Health Benefits Program-owned patient care centers, and wellness and disease management.

Contrary to popular belief, no one wants a healthy, well-funded and long-lasting pension and health care system more than the people who pay for it and count on it for their retirement. Put us at the table and have an open mind about our thoughts, and the state would be shocked how fast pension and benefit costs are brought under control.

Colligan also spends a good portion of the piece talking about the funding situation of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS).

Read the whole piece here.