On June 23, the New Jersey State Legislature enacted several reforms to the state’s pension system which are still awaiting Gov. Corzine’s signature to make them into law. The reforms include raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, prohibiting public employees from counting time spent working in other states towards the 25 years of work required to quality for lifetime New Jersey health benefits, and eliminating Lincoln’s Birthday as a state holiday. They were recommended by a pension reform task force two years earlier and could save the state’s taxpayers $300 million over 15 years.
Unfortunately, Gov. Corzine has refused to give the green light to implement them. Had he signed the legislation directly after the June vote, the reforms would have been effective Aug. 1, affecting all new public employees hired after that date. Hundreds of employees have been hired since Aug. 1, and more continue to be placed on the state payroll each day while the legislation awaits his signature.
As a result, New Jersey’s taxpayers are once again paying the piper as the governor acquiesces to the unions during the lead-up to his re-election campaign. He recently said that he does not want to sign the reform legislation now because the New Jersey Education Association requested that they have a chance to notify teachers about the restriction on out-of-state work no longer counting towards the 25 years of service required for New Jersey health benefits after retirement. If notification were an issue, why didn’t the governor sign the legislation in June and have a letter sent to all public employees informing them of the change at that time?
The NJEA president, Joyce Powell, said that the delay was needed so that teachers would be informed that they needed to act quickly to request that their out-of-state work be counted towards their requirements for state-funded health care before it no longer could be counted. Therefore, the issue is not actually notification, but rather the delay which is intended to allow more public employees to increase their pensions at taxpayer expense. In fact, since Aug. 1, the date on which the legislation could have taken effect, over 400 state employees have claimed out-of-state time towards their New Jersey health benefit requirements.
Where does the fault lie for this delay? Not with the public employees; they are simply following the law and requesting what they currently have every right to receive. Not with the legislature—they are actually the “good guys” looking out for the taxpayers on this issue. Even the union leaders are not to be seriously faulted since their primary job is to protect the interests of public employees.
While the governor continues to reward his friends and allies at taxpayer expense, perhaps to keep them in his corner for his re-election campaign, he fails to realize that he is the governor of all residents (and taxpayers) in New Jersey, and not simply of his supporters.
This failure to recognize the obvious repeats itself time and again in the Corzine Administration. Should the governor continue living in his own little world and ignore the big picture, it will come crashing down around him in November 2009, if not before. After all, there are many more privately-employed taxpayers in New Jersey than public employees, and the governor should rest assured they will be voting.
Michael M. Shapiro, founder of ShapTalk.com, is an attorney who resides in New Providence. He currently serves as the editor of The Alternative Press, www.thealternativepress.com Contact Mike at email@example.com
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