Asemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican of Red Bank, serves on the Assembly Budget Committee and apparently he has heard a lot of criticism about the proposed pension reforms in New Jersey that basically throw in the towel on the defined benefit system and seek ways to pay off the massive accumulated debt.
Question #1: How did we get into this mess?
I sympathize with our public workers whose pensions are funded by the state – particularly folks in the PERS and teacher systems. It totally stinks that state leaders over the 20 years preceding the 2011 reforms made promises they should have known they couldn’t keep, and then shortchanged an already over-stressed system. To be fair, union leaders were guilty as well. Everyone sitting at those bargaining tables knew – or should have known – that they were setting up our public pension systems to fail in the future.
Question #2: What was wrong with those people before Christie?
Unfortunately neither members of the public nor union members can go back in time and alter our path by choosing leaders who put responsibility ahead of their own ambitions. I am desperately trying to be a different kind of leader. In order to live up to that aspiration I have to tell it like it is. Repeating the words “just make the payment” won’t win anyone any awards for gutsy leadership.
I apologize that the reforms that we passed in 2011 didn’t solve the problem. I was at that table and folks on both sides were acting in good faith. Had we had the growth over the past several years – that was fair to assume we would back in 2011 – we would be much closer to our projections of our ability to meet our commitments. But that hasn’t happened. The sooner we face that reality the better.
Question #4: Why can’t the state just make the payments?
The folks simply clinging to the “just make the payment mantra” are like folks on the Titanic refusing to leave their staterooms. Saying, “I paid for this and am not giving it up! Blame the ship designers!” won’t help you when the seawater hits your door.
Question #5: Are there any alternatives to the Christie-Freeze?
I’m open to alternatives to the plan put forward by the governor and the pension commission – but to date I have seen nothing but head-in-the-sand pandering. And repeating the words “just make the payment” or we have to “find a way” don’t qualify as plans – and won’t win anyone any awards for gutsy leadership.
Question #6: Wasn’t the NJ pension study commission just a random, biased, incompetent group of men doing an evil, union-hating governor’s bidding?
The bi-partisan pension reform commission created by the governor isn’t some random, biased, incompetent group of men doing an evil, union-hating governor’s bidding. The commission is made up of some of the best, most independent thinkers of our time. To reflexively dismiss them as just another group of political hacks huddled in a back room charged with figuring out a way to kick the can down the road would be a grave mistake.
Then there is the question that Assemblyman O’Scanlon chose not to ask himself: If Wisconsin can keep from running a defined benefit system into the ground then what’ the problem in New Jersey. He wouldn’t need to look far beyond the latest presidential polls to get a whiff at the answer to that one.