The deal on N.J. public workers’ pensions

After much hand-wringing and backroom dealing the long-awaited reform of the New Jersey pension system was leaked today.   On the benefits side, cost-of-living adjustments would be eliminated and new-hires would again have benefits reduced slightly.  On the revenue side, public workers would be be putting in about $250 million more a year and the state would be contractually required to make its payments.

In total, this buys the plan about two more months of life, all due to the COLA elimination.  By point:

COLA elimination: A major savings for any plan over the long-term as I mentioned before.  Unfortunately the New Jersey plan does not have a long-term and, because this is a real reduction, there will be lawsuits.

Raising Retirement Age for new entrants: Depending on how it’s written this could save some money in 2035.

Upping worker contributions: (Except for those who have 25 years in since that would cause more of an exodus straining this Ponzi scheme.)  Based on information from a state website on employees in the system (with a projection for teachers since the full file wouldn’t download) put into a worksheet, employees currently put in about $1.5 billion annually into the plan.  The change in contribution percentages proposed would add about $250 million to that total and would not extend any drop-dead dates since, presumably, upon bankruptcy those employee contributions would need to be returned.  Since currently about $8 billion is being paid out of the plan annually, $250 million would cover about 11 days worth of payments for now.

Obligating the state to contractually make their contributions: Good luck with that.  The links here would be too numerous ranging from Union County raiding their Open Space trust fund to NJ governors doing whatever they damn well please with their budgets.  There is no law in this state strong enough to withstand a politicians’ whim.

32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tough Love on June 8, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    We need a fresh start … WITHOUT the burden of the current excessive Plans. Anything that gets us there is a win for NJ taxpayers …. the collusion between Public Sector Unions and our contribution-soliciting, vote-selling elected officials resulted in the current level of grossly excessive benefits. There is no valid reason why Private Sector taxpayers should pay for this ………… INCLUDING if necessary the fling of fiscal emergency to FORCE the very significant pension and benefit reductions needed …. a hard freeze on the DB Plan and replacement with a DC Plan with a modest taxpayer match is by far the BEST option.

    The ROOT CAUSE is NOT on the funding side, it’s the excessive Pensions and benefits, the TAXPAYER paid-for share of which is ROUTINELY 2, 4, even 6 times (for safety workers) greater in value at retirement than what a comparably paid Private Sector worker retiring at the SAME age and with the SAME years of service gets from his employer.


  2. […] post originally appeared at Burypensions blog. ch_client = "manojt"; ch_width = 300; ch_height = 250; […]


  3. After having read the news release, I started to compose a blog, which I will save for another day because, I was hoping you would give it clarity to it, which, of course, you did.

    What disturbs me is that Cryan is still rallying with the Unions. This is the same behavior of former Governor Corzine. Do they not see that the Union style is NOT sustainable? Really, I don’t know what these people are thinking. Perhaps money in their coffers. This is not funny anymore.

    My theme was going to do be why should my kind buy a house, or more likely condo, only to be indebted to these outrageous debts? Even with mortgage interest and property tax write offs, should she do this? I don’t think so. She has a very modest income, although she has a very significant bank roll (wish she invested in gold).

    I just don’t see how buying a house/condo in NJ is an investment. Today, I think it’s a liability from the get go.

    Am I wrong?


    • Too many factors for a pat answer. However, buying real estate as an investment in New Jersey would be a mistake. Generally the purchaser has a fixed level of payment in mind and as property taxes keep climbing inexorably it will necessarily decrease the value of the property that a willing buyer (or future investor) will be able to afford to pay. It will turn into a spiral as values drop and taxes on these lower values go up until one day you find you’re repurchasing your house in the property taxes you pay.


  4. Thanks John because that’s the way I see it. My kid hasn’t found a place that suits her, even though property values continue to decline and she has been in the market for almost two years. She can keep her money and invest in something else because I just don’t see real estate as a wise investment at this point or at any point. Despite the decline in value, which is usually considered a “buyer’s market” can’t cut the downside. I still wonder if mortgage companies/banks will stop lending in NJ.

    Privately, I was GLAD she didn’t buy. Who needs all that liability? It’s sad.


  5. And another thing. These pension holidays puts any new home buyer on the hot seat for those who sold their own homes and left the state. In essence, a new home buyer is on the hook for someone else’s contribution. It isn’t fair, just or right. .



  6. Posted by muni-man on June 9, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I agree that the COLA elimination is about the only real substantive change here, and it’s not nearly enough to save the plans. They’ll go under eventually – just depends on when and how deep/long the next major market downdraft will be. Is it your understanding the state will be contractually?? required
    to contribute their 1/7th, 2/7th etc. thingy over 7 years or the actuarial ARC each year? It’s really theatre of the absurd anyhow since they’ll likely do whatever they damn well please in the end as you said. Just like the great big Fed entitlement game, this NJ turtle is gonna wind up on its back broiling in the sun.

    They are forcing them to cough up some fairly significant healthcare contributions and phase them in over 4 years (not 7 ), and that was my major concern. Most should be paying close to the 30% cost. That, coupled with the salary cap, will be a definite help for town budgets and TP’s. CC’s gotta completely eliminate the sick leave/vacation cashouts, then I’d be satisfied.


    • Posted by Tough Love on June 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

      Since you clearly understand the drivers of this problem, do you not see a major problem with current employees continuing to accrue pension benefits for future service under the current formulas ? They are not paid less than Private sector workers, so what justifies continued accrual rates that are multiples higher than the taxpayers who pay for the most of their Plans’ costs ?


      • Posted by muni-man on June 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm

        I know exactly where you’re coming from and I agree totally with you in principle, but the new harsh and very likely SECULAR economic realities (e.g. persistently high unemployment, declining home values, stagnant or lowered salaries etc., etc.) will ultimately FORCE either (a) benefit reductions of sufficient magnitude to make pensions affordable for the general public, or (b) the plans will collapse, court rulings notwithstanding. I’m a pragmatist – healthcare expense and lump sump sick leave/vacation payouts are much more damaging to town budgets than pensions at this stage and that’s what I want to see greatly reduced. That, coupled with a firm salary cap will keep town budgets in check for the most part. I want stable-to-lower taxes period!!


  7. Posted by javagold on June 9, 2011 at 10:11 am

    the banks are not going to continue to allow the public unions raping the property taxes here in NJ as its going to death spiral the property values even furthur which in turn will collapse the banks house of cards and believe me if you have not been paying attention the past 3 years , the banks are in charge and will never allow this to happen and im actually shocked we havent heard from them regarding this crisis……….the public employees are going to be left holding the empty bag and are too stupid to even understand it

    my problem is i hate both the banks and the public employee unions


  8. Posted by SNJGUY on June 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Toguh Love – How can you say it is not a Funding Problem? If the state, county and locals had all made their required contributions to the pension system over the past 15 years then we would not even be talking about the pension system. It would not be 100% funded but would sure be in much better shape.

    Granted many employees are not employed by companies that still offer pensions. But they’re are still plenty of places that do and I have compared a state pension with theirs (used 5-6 companies) and the calculated pensions are very similar using salary and years in the system.


  9. Posted by Tough Love on June 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    SNJGUY, My actual words (above) were: …”The ROOT CAUSE is NOT on the funding side, it’s the excessive Pensions and benefits, the TAXPAYER paid-for share of which is ROUTINELY 2, 4, even 6 times (for safety workers) greater in value at retirement than what a comparably paid Private Sector worker retiring at the SAME age and with the SAME years of service gets from his employer.”

    The key words are ROOT CAUSE. Of course a VERY costly benefit design, one which includes (a) 2%-2.5% per year of service formulas, (b) VERY young full retirement ages, (c) COLA increases, (d) early retirement at far below actuarial cost, (d) pay-spiking just prior to retirement, (e) disability pensions approved for the “marginally” ill, etc., will take a great deal to “FUND”. The problem, … the “ROOT CAUSE” … is that the benefit design is WAY too rich…. and HENCE expensive to fund. Reduce the BENEFITS (for CURRENT workers) and we automatically address the funding problem … at least for future years of service. Addressing the current underfunding associated with already accrued benefits is much more difficult to solve.

    As to your 2-nd paragraph, you said …”I have compared a state pension with theirs (used 5-6 companies) and the calculated pensions are very similar using salary and years in the system.”. Then (sorry for being blunt) but you don’t know what are are doing and the 2, 4, 6 multiples stated above are accurate.

    As a simple comparison (with assumed equal pensionable compensation) for a Public and Private sector worker retiring at age 60 with 30 years of service, RARELY would the Private Sector worker’s pension pay more than 35% of final pay (after incorporating an early retirement reduction that would likely come into play for retiring at age 60, an early age for most Private Sector Plans) without post-retirement COLA increases, verses typically 60+% for the Civil Servant with COLA increases. At age 60, a 60% COLA-increased pension is roughly equivalent in value at retirement to a non-COLA-increased pension 1/3 greater, or 80% of pay. Hence, on an apples-to-apples basis, for the SAME pay, SAME years of service, and SAME age at retirement, the Civil Servant’s pension is 80/35 or 2.3 times greater.

    But we’re not done, since virtually ALL Civil Servants with such long service will get free or heavily subsidized retiree healthcare, while VERY few Private sector companies offer this any longer. With 5 years before age 65 and eligibility for Medicare, the cost of family coverage so provided could easily add another $250K to the Civil Servant’s benefit package that the Private Sector worker will not get.

    Also, let’s not forget the Public Sector cash-outs of unused vacation and sick days … sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the Private Sector cash-out of sick days is unheard of, and while unused vacation days can often be cashed out, almost never can they be accrued for more than 1 year.

    Get the picture ?

    Time for change ?


    • Posted by Anonymous on June 10, 2011 at 3:05 am

      Tough Love:
      I am very familar with the state pension situation. Sorry but I do know what I am talking about. You, like many others commenting on this topic (not Mr. Bury), throw numbers around that are not supported with any facts.

      1. The MAIN (No. 1) reason for the pension problem is not overly generous pensions but rather the failure of the state and the locals to contribute for well over a decade and, as this website writer has stated, other problems with how the contribution amounts were calculated.

      2. Yes, many private workers today do not have pensions. But I have spoken to 5 or 6 people, two are my brothers, and we are all very close in age and number of years employed. They all have pension plans and although the formula’s are different, we all end up with pension amounts quite similar. Blue collar to top 500 companies. The COLA public workers have is the main difference. (FYI – I think I read on the pension page that a typical worker that retired in 2009 received a COLA increase this year that was $23/month). For you to state public pensions are ROUTINELY 2/4/6 times more than private workers is simply not true. I think your figure that private pensions at age 60 and 30 years of service are only 35% of final pay is way low.

      3. State worker and teacher pensions are not at 2.0-2.5% per year as you stated. Maybe police or locals are, I do not know. It is more like 1.8% and if you select a pension option where your beneficiary will receive most or all of your pension when you die then it is even lower.

      4. Certainly won’t see me condoning pay-spiking just prior to retirement and disability pensions approved for the “marginally” ill. The people who get away with this make me sick. But not sure overall there are huge sums involved, at least not with the former.

      5. I generally agree Public Sector cash-outs of unused vacation and sick days is totally out of line. County and municipalities that are allowing retiring workers to collect outrageous sums of $50,000-$250,000. State workers have had their sick time payment capped at $15,000 since 1986 (over 25 years) and it might have been $12,000 for years prior to that. I really don’t think that is overly generous. Many private workers that retired over the past 25+ years received severance pay far higher than $15,000.

      6. State workers can only carried over or accure one years worth of vacation time. They can not accumilate years and years and then get paid. If they carry over one years worth of vacation time into their final year and work their entire last calendar year and not use any time, then that would be 2 years work of vacation time (probably 10 weeks) they could get paid for. However, that would be rare. Besides, most stay on the payroll as on vacation for however many weeks they have at the end of their career because that is another month or so added to their service time.

      7. Health care is another story. Public workers need to start paying more.

      8. While the governor always mentions federal workers pay 30% of their healthcare premiuns and therefore public workers in NJ should too, it is funny how he leaves out that they (Feds) only pay 0.8% towards their pensions (NJ state workers 5.5%), they have a 401 type program where up to 5 or 6% of their contributions are matched AND the Federal goverment will contribute 1% of their pay into the account each year even if they don’t participate at all.

      Let’s face it. Everyone has different perks. While the private sector bennys are down in the last few years, I certainly saw my friendsand relatives enjoy year-end bonuses of hundreds and even thousands of dollars at times. Ability to win contests and vacations. Free Christmas parties worth $100 – $200, etc. that state workers obviously did not receive. That’s life.


      • Posted by Tough Love on June 10, 2011 at 3:29 am

        Your delusional (and obviously a Civil Servant … protecting his turf) …… not one of my assertions, numbers, or facts is incorrect.


  10. Posted by javagold on June 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    i agree with you on #7 , the rest is hogwash


  11. Posted by SNJGUY on June 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I truly think one of the biggest disappointment with the internet is people who can not have a civil, logical discussion with the facts but rather just personaly attack and insult people. Sad.

    I provided facts from the pension website and other documents easily found online. Sorry, but I clearly showed many, of your numbers to be false. You have provided no proofs to support your numbers. If you want a real discussion, provide the links to the documents.


    • Posted by Anonymous on June 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Sorry SJNGUY but you “showed” nothing. Tell me exactly what you believe I said that is incorrect, and I’ll prove you wrong.

      And no, one of the biggest problem with the internet is statements from those such as yourself (a Civil Servant with a BIG vested interest in delaying and stopping the VERY needed changes via distortion, deceit, and misinformation … all presented as “facts”


  12. Posted by SNJGUY on June 11, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Once again, nothing but a personal attack. I’ll await your proofs on how anything I said was distortion, deceit, and misinformation.

    I nicely asked you to provide the proofs for your statements such as a) 2%-2.5% per year of service formulas, b) RARELY would the Private Sector worker’s pension pay more than 35% of final pay, c) At age 60, a 60% COLA-increased pension is roughly equivalent in value at retirement to a non-COLA-increased pension 1/3 greater, or 80% of pay, etc.


    • Posted by Tough Love on June 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm


      (a) Civil Servant pension formulas generally range from 1.75%-3% per year of service (although there are some outliers). E.g. Cops in California routinely have 3% formulas. Cops in NJ get 65% after 25 years which equates to a 2.6% formula. For miscellaneous employees & teachers the 2% I used in my example is very representative (and likely less than the median of such percentages). I am peripherally in this business so I am “familiar” with many Plan designs and their funding (both in the Public & Private Sectors). We both know there is no way to “prove” this. I leave John Bury to agree or disagree if he chooses to do so.

      (b) Private Sector Traditional DB Plans (like the DB Public Sector workers get, not the somewhat odd-design blue collar car-company type, but the type that still exists in some of the largest American corporations) include formulas generally in the range of .75%-1.5%, often with coordination (or offsets) with Social Security Benefits or with 2 different percentages such as 0.75% for wages up to SS “covered Compensation” and 1.5% for wage above that cutoff. The net result RARELY results results in an average % greater than 1.25% per year of service. 30 years at 1.25% (my upper end) gives 37.5%. But, the Normal Retirement Age (NRA) in private sector Plans is almost always 65 with per-year actuarial reductions rarely less than 4% per year for collecting benefits before age 65. In my example, at age 60, there would be a (65-60)x4%=20% reduction to the full pension payout, resulting (in this case) in a 37.5%x0.8=30% of pay pension … supporting my statement that “RARELY would the Private Sector worker’s pension pay more than 35% of final pay”. Can I “prove” this to your satisfaction ? I doubt it, and will again leave the accuracy of my statement for John to opine on.

      (c) Typical full-career Civil Servants retire between ages 55 and 60, with a life expectancy close to 25 years. To determine the “cost” of a pension at retirement, you have to create a spreadsheet (as I have done) to calculate the present value (discounting for interest and mortality) at the date of retirement the future annuity payments. If you do this twice, once with a level payout, and a 2-nd time with the payout increased by 3% annually (they historical level of annual CPI inflation), you will see that the latter is results in a present value roughly 1/3 greater than the former, and within the reasonable range of retirement ages and interest rates, this relationship changes little. Again, is this the “proof” you’re looking for? I doubt it. John can opine on this as well, if he so chooses.

      P.S. No personal attack implied or intended.


      • Posted by muni-man on June 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm

        He doesn’t understand the concept of discounted cash flows, annuity calcs/costs etc. None of them do – they’re clueless. The inexorable laws of economics are gonna crush many of these plans in the future, especially basket cases like NJ. There’s not a damn thing any of these unions/pols/courts are gonna be able to do about it either, much as they’d like to think otherwise. This country is in the first inning or two of a true economic nightmare that will last for years to come and that’s gonna put many of these plans permanently out of business.


        • Posted by Tough Love on June 11, 2011 at 6:33 pm

          I agree, but I believe were in the 3rd or 4th inning, and unfortunately, by the 6-th inning China is going to bail, and THEN the REAL nightmare begins.


          • Posted by muni-man on June 11, 2011 at 7:26 pm

            You might be right about the 3rd inning. What’s become crystal clear over the last year is that the US has largely lost its hegemony as the world’s de facto economic engine. We still play a big role, but its diminishing RAPIDLY. Goobermint doesn’t work anymore at all levels –
            fed, state, local. The political system is an abomination. Our competitive advantage has been eroded across the board, and the jobs that go with it. Our education system is a travesty. The country’s economy is permanently sinking into the muck and the tax base that supports the vaunted publics is likewise sinking into the muck. The publics are gonna get whacked big time in the years ahead, but they just continue to do the ostrich thing and pretend all will be well.
            They ain’t too savvy.

          • Posted by Tough Love on June 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm

            Muni-man, when you said …”We still play a big role, but its diminishing RAPIDLY. “,…. the “S” hits the fan when the US dollar is no longer the worlds “reserve currency”. Supposedly, Europe, Asia, and the Middle Ease have already held “secret” meetings to move this change along. FWIW, the European debt crisis (Greece and the other PIIGS) is a more urgent priority and may help delay this change.

  13. […] Union County: Debt and Taxes « The deal on N.J. public workers’ pensions […]


  14. Posted by SNJGUY on June 13, 2011 at 1:16 am

    Tough Love
    Thanks for the thoughful response. I offer the following for what it is worth:

    a) I thought the discussion was relative to NJ so I certainly won’t comment on pensions for cops in CA. In an earlier post I did indicate that maybe police and municipal pension formulas in NJ were in the 2.0-2.5% per year of service, I did not know. I did know their pensions and other benefits far exceed even the typical public worker in NJ. I also indicated NJ State worker and teacher pensions are not at 2.0-2.5% per year. It is more like 1.8% and if you select a pension option where your beneficiary will receive most or all of your pension when you die, then it is even lower. Locally, I think teachers in PA get 2.5% and maybe Phila employees.

    b) All I can tell you is what I mentioned before. Pension calculations for 5-6 private workers I know and have spoken to such as a major newspaper employee, an union sheet metal worker, an employee of Exxon/Mobil, one from Lockheed- Martin and a utility worker all were amazingly quite similar to a public worker pension with everyone at age 60. Maybe they just happen to be the lucky rares ones well above 35%. Cetainly not Mom and Pop companies. Let’s face it, the private pensions that exist probably do vary greatly – today. Twenty years ago, different story entirely.

    c) Concerning your cost of a public pension using a payout increased by 3% annually (they historical level of annual CPI inflation), here is some info on public worker COLAs in NJ from the pension website:

    Your first COLA is paid in your pension allowance the 25th month ( 2 years) after your date of retirement. The Division of Pensions and Benefits uses the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), U.S. City Average, All Items, 1982-84=100. YOUR RATE OF INCREASE IS EQUAL TO 60 PERCENT OF THE PERCENTAGE OF CHANGE between the average CPI for the calendar year in which you retired and the average CPI for the 12 month period ending August 31st immediately preceding the year when the adjustment is payable.

    Example: To calculate the COLA due February 1, 2011 for members who retired in 2008 or 2009:
    A member retired in 2009 with a monthly retirement allowance of $2,500.00*. The average CPI for the
    twelve months ending December 31, 2009 was 209.63. The average CPI for the twelve months ending August 31, 2010 was 212.94.
    • To calculate the change in the CPI, subtract 209.63 from 212.94.
    212.94 – 209.63 = 3.31
    • To calculate the percentage change in the CPI between the retirement year 2009 and the 12 months ending August 31, 2010, divide 3.31 by 209.63. The result is 1.579%.
    3.31 ÷ 209.63 = 1.579%
    • The cost-of-living adjustment rate for February 1, 2011 equals 60% of 1.579%, or 0.947%.
    60% X 1.579% = 0.947%
    • Therefore, the cost-of-living adjustment for this member is 0.947% of $2,500.00, or $23.68.
    $2,500.00 X 0.947% = $23.68
    • The total monthly benefit equals $2,523.68
    $2,500.00 + $23.68 = $2,523.68

    By the way, I had an editorial published in the Burlington County Times back in late March where I said many things but one of them was that reasonable pension and benefit reforms were needed. I know the figures on what is going into the funds, what is being paid out, what the returns have been. I’m far from an expert but above average and the ugly truth is not hard to see. I understand the need for increased contributions from employees but to wait for another 7 years for a full payment into the pension system from the state and all the counties/municipalities is a killer. And as someone mentioned earlier, that is always a “maybe” regardless of legislation.

    For muni-man, who apparently knows what concepts I understand, I’m signing off as one of them “Clueless” in NJ. 🙂


    • Posted by Tough Love on June 13, 2011 at 2:21 am

      Interesting. A few comments:

      (1) Pensions are always first calculated on the basis of a single life annuity. If you HOOSE to elect a Joint and Survivor annuity, you get a smaller payment becuase te “joint” life expectancy is longer. The is NOT a reduction in “value”, it’s simply the actuarial equivalent of the single life annuity.

      (2) Obviously I have no idea exactly what pensions your 5-6 relatives/friends get, but I’ll bet you are not comparing apples to apples. For example, while I bet you get annual post retirement COLAs, I doubt they do (that’s a BIG difference). Sometime, whens Private Sector plans are flush with assets, they grant occasional COLAs (on a “when they feel like it” basis) . Also, I’ll bet you can start collecting an unreduced pension at a much earlier age (also a BIG deal).

      (3) It sounds like you are saying that the COLA increases in NJ are only 60% of the actual change in the CPI-W. I did not know that ….. this would certainly make a difference. If true, my 1/3 higher is likely close to 20%. FYI, the CPI-W is now VERY uncharacteristically low. E.g., for 1/1974-1/2010 it averaged 4.22%. For the shorter more recent period from 1/1990-1/2010 (which excludes the higher inflation of the 1970s from the earlier period), it averaged 2.62%.

      (4) While you are certainly correct that Christie’s 1/7, 2/7 … grade-in will only exacerbate the underfunding (by about $15 Billion, in my estimate), increased employee contributions will do little to nothing …… as they’d have to be an additional 15+% of pay to be meaningful.


  15. […] another 1% is phased in over 7 years.  Expect the unions to call this an 18% increase but, as I said before, the total dollar impact of all the proposed contribution hikes will come to about $250 million […]


  16. I don’t know a single person in the private sector who has a pension. Not one. 401ks? Sure. But a pension?



    • Posted by Anonymous on June 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Actually I know someone in the private sector (Atlantic City, not casino) that has both a 401(k) and a pension plan. Electrical Union he is in.


  17. […] figured the additional annual contribution employees would be making would come to about $250 million and with creative use of compounding $3.9 billion is possible over 10 years*.  Since about $8 […]


  18. […] That $135 billion amount is only going up as substantial benefit accruals continue notwithstanding faux reforms […]


  19. […] on pensions were eliminated (the only cost savings of any note in those 2011 faux reforms) with the approval of an accommodating judiciary while “requirements” to have the state […]


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