John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, had an op-ed in the Star-Ledger today arguing against a constitutional amendment requiring the state to make some predefined (and malleable) level of pension contributions arguing that:
By shedding a critical component of the budget decision-making process the legislature would be abrogating its responsibility and here’s why. The current comprehensive budget process that involves and invites public testimony would be short-circuited.
Every piece of legislation that is proposed at the state level is assigned to at least one committee in both the General Assembly and the Senate. Committee hearings are scheduled during which anyone with an opinion regarding the bill is able to offer testimony in support or opposition to the issue.
Elements of this testimony are often incorporated into the final version of a bill before it is brought up for a vote by the entire General Assembly and Senate. This process provides legislators with the most comprehensive information possible in order to make an informed decision.
These committee hearings might serve some purpose if the lobbyists who dominate the proceedings were to drop off the checks from their clients as they ‘testify’ but otherwise legislators already have all the information they can cash by the time of these hearings.
An example of this ‘public’ input occurred today as the Senate state government committee held their hearing on the amendment:
Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday that a mandate benefiting 10 percent of the population doesn’t belong in the constitution.
“The pension benefits are meant to, I believe, accommodate about 800,000 people. That’s in a population of our state of 8 million people,” he said. “That does not warrant inclusion in our constitution.”
From the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, President Michele Siekerka warned that a unique prescription for pensions will come at the expense of other programs or taxpayers.
“It ties the hands of future governors and legislators,” she told the committee. “It removes your ability to balance all the priorities against available revenues. It allows this one express purpose to become a super priority. And to the detriment of what? Other essential services and safety net programs that you already have a difficult time balancing for all of the residents of the state of New Jersey.”
Without it, countered Seth Hahn, legislative director of the state Communications Workers of America union, the funds will run out of money and benefits will have to be paid out of the general treasury, or 800,000 people lose their retirement income, sending the economy into a “tailspin.”
“Either way, it’s clear that anyone who cares about fiscal responsibility must agree the constitution must be changed in order to require payments be made,” he said.
Obviously business interests are worried that the no-bid contracts they get for campaign cash might dry up if a large budget item intrudes on their easy money so they make an appearance to remind legislators who put them in office.
Among the ‘comprehensive information’ that lawmakers did not get today:
- the real pension shortfall ($166 billion as of 6/30/14 plus whatever was lost in the last few days)
- the cost of the return of COLAs
- any discussion of bond ratings for a deadbeat state
I doubt anyone even asked (or cared to know).