Blaming the Victim

This was a blog I was going to save until Chris Christie got his 1% in Iowa and 4% in New Hampshire* and left the race after trying to broker an ambassadorship (to Texas?) for himself from Trump but, since he started early:
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Jake Tapper,  with all due respect, could have followed up with either:

  1. John Kasich was elected governor of Ohio in 2010; or
  2. Jeb Bush at the end of his second term as governor of Florida was “as popular as ever”.

When he drops out I see Christie claiming to have run a solid campaign but what got him in the end was the absolute fiscal mess that is New Jersey which he did all he could to clean up.

Who knows? Under Corzine or Buono would we have had:

  1. Atlantic City bankrupt already?
  2. 15 credit downgrades?
  3. no Transportation Trust Fund?

But there are two areas I have experience with and I grade Christie an F on both. Here are my first-hand examples:

Legalized corruption

  • Union County is using Open Space trust fund money for their general budget.  I met with two state representatives in early 2013 about it. Nothing happened
  • A law firm getting millions of dollars in county contracts has been having their lawyers donate individually  each election cycle to freeholder campaigns.  I noticed this is 2011 and they left off giving in 2012 but started up again in 2013.

Christie came into office primarily on his record of locking up those he designated to be crooked politicians.  There seemed to be some concern among insiders that he would continue when he became governor.  They needn’t have worried.

Public Pensions

In 2010 I went to Trenton to meet with two of Christie’s people for an hour at a time when they were sorting out reform proposals for the state retirement system.  I laid out the problem, offered solutions, and hoped for the best.  I (and New Jersey) did not get it .

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* Which may be hard to get now that this blizzard (to us) has reminded Iowans and New Hampshirites that Christie is from one of those wussy-liberal states that go into emergency mode for what they would deem a dusting.

51 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on January 24, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    TL voting for Christie so he can bankrupt the nation

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on January 24, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Anon,,, Did you notice that John said ………..

      ” what got him in the end was the absolute fiscal mess that is New Jersey which he did all he could to clean up.

      Who knows? Under Corzine or Buono would we have had:

      1. Atlantic City bankrupt already?
      2. 15 credit downgrades?
      3. no Transportation Trust Fund?”

      ————————————-

      Christie INHERITED the ension/benefit-driven financial mess (read that as GROSSLY EXCESSIVE promises) from prior administrations and he has not been successful in fixing it BECAUSE our Union BOUGHT-OFF Legislature doesn’t want the flow of Union money to end.

      Reply

      • Actually those words are what I predict Christie will say (or words to that effect) when he drops out.

        I can’t add much to a lot of what Christie has done or failed to do since I don’t have the background but in the two areas I know well – political bribes and public pensions – he has been a disaster. What was possible six years ago (ie cleaning up the state and using the savings to fund pensions) is not possible now.

        Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 24, 2016 at 5:44 pm

        TL is constantly speaking for others including John.

        Reply

      • Posted by The Resident Nutcase on January 24, 2016 at 7:26 pm

        Of course he inherited the pension issue… Past governors since Whitman have skipped payments too…. Just not on such a grand scale.
        Decades of skipped payments have only made the pensions weaker.

        Reply

        • Posted by Smooth Moderation Douglas on January 24, 2016 at 10:55 pm

          I can’t help repeating myself:

          Moody’s quote:

          “A constitutional requirement to make pension contributions would remove a tool that the state has used to balance its budget for decades.”

          It’s classic. It’s ironic. It’s nauseating. All the more so because it is true.

          What a tool !!

          Reply

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 24, 2016 at 11:02 pm

            Hello Mr. misleading (aka SMD).

            The FULL Quote from the NJ(dot)com article was …

            “Moody’s weighed in briefly on that proposal, too, saying that constitutionally scheduled payments without reforms would “improve the fund’s aggregate funding position, but significantly reduce the state’s near-term budget flexibility. A constitutional requirement to make pension contributions would remove a tool that the state has used to balance its budget for decades.”‘

            So how come you left THIS part out …

            ” that constitutionally scheduled payments without reforms would “improve the fund’s aggregate funding position, but significantly reduce the state’s near-term budget flexibility.”

            More “smoothing” ?

  2. Posted by phils41@yahoo.com on January 24, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Great job, John. I appreciate your efforts Phil Sloan

    Reply

  3. Posted by MJ on January 24, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    John, might you refresh our memories as to what your recommendations were for reforming the pension mess when you met with Christie’s people
    Thanks

    Reply

    • I was asked about that in an email today and I wish I could find my notes but here’s my response today:

      I might have alluded to the meeting before and I have notes on it, but can’t find them now. I was brought in by a lawyer who I worked with for quite a while. It was a meeting in Trenton with Gregg David and a woman involved in the budget (forgot her name). We presented our views which basically consisted of warning them that the situation was much worse than they realized because their actuaries were lying. I think we suggested a lot of what the pension committee of 2014/2015 came out with but I’m sure I did not touch on cutting COLAs since that seemed ridiculous to me at the time.

      Reply

      • Posted by commr51 on January 25, 2016 at 8:18 pm

        i would like to know more about eliminating COLAs being “ridiculous.” As a thought experiment, if we had deflation, would a negative COLA be ridiculous? If not, then you have not thought this through. Wages are stagnating, taxpayers are fleeing and investment returns are inadequate. You never proposed any meaningful solutions so far as i remember from your star ledger blog days.

        Reply

        • It was ridiculous because it was blatantly illegal. The COLA was part of the benefit and any reduction would be theft.

          What needs to be done is:

          1) get an honest value of the liabilities

          2) decide what to do.

          This blog has primarily been about (1) since going to (2) only leads to phony ‘solutions’. Once that liability number is pegged ($160 billion and rising?) then we can talk.

          Reply

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 8:59 pm

            John,

            If not technically “illegal”, should it not be ACTUALLY illegal for our Public Sector Unions and our Elected Officials to collude with one another (benefiting both) ….. with the former BUYING the favorable votes (on Public Sector pay, pensions, and benefits) of the latter with Campaign contributions and election support ?

            Such actions certainly seems to fit the definition of “racketeering”.

  4. Posted by Joe on January 24, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    On the video CC said Kasich has been Governor for a lot less time then him–is a lot less time 1 year?

    Reply

  5. Posted by Smooth Moderation Douglas on January 24, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    “They love me in Iowa,” Christie said

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on January 24, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      I hope Bloomberg throws his hat in the ring …. and wins !

      “F” the crazy friggin conservative-in-the-extreme Republicans and the give-away-EVERYTHING Democrats.

      We need a new beginning, and he’s so rich, maybe he’ll be beholden to nobody.

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 26, 2016 at 11:04 am

        He did a good job w nyc…..he’d get my vote. Maybe, just maybe we would save billions in health care a decade from now because people stopped drinking big gulps. I am all for personal freedoms, including the personal freedom to pay for your own treatment when you get a self inflicted disease.

        Reply

  6. John, a bit off topic in relation to this post but would you provide an explanation as to what the “Chrsitie Whitman stole from the pension fund” means in simple terms. I’m getting tired of hearing this as the mantra of publics who perhaps rightfully are looking to blame and point fingers. I’d like to be able to educate others on the history of the pensions demise. I think you have discussed this before but would you refresh my memory. Thx

    Reply

    • Basically 2 things:

      1) Pension Obligation Bonds with repayment schedule far off (and using some of the bond money for the general budget)l; and

      2) taking the pension payment out of the budget

      (2) being much more important since in a situation without oversight where you can do whatever you want without explanation (or with a flimsy explanation that that no sane person believes but is good enough for public consumption) taking the pension payment out of the budget made it impossible to get anywhere near the necessary contribution amounts once bankruptcy began to loom.

      Reply

      • John, to expand on that explanation, why the POB to begin with? what was the goal or the stragegy of doing that? Was the budget already out of control?

        Reply

        • Didn’t follow NJ budgets that closely back then but the story is that Whitman had this income tax cut campaign-promise to put through so instead of doing any real cutting she got it from cutting pension contributions plus taking a cut of the POB money.

          Reply

          • Right. Steve Forbes and other advisors counseled her to cut taxes in order to defeat the unpopular Jim Florio. To do so he recommended she play games with the pension fund(s) as you describe.

    • Posted by The Resident Nutcase on January 25, 2016 at 11:03 am

      Hey MJ…..Tired of hearing this mantra from the public workers?????
      Why? Because it’s true and doesn’t fit your anti union narrative?? Because it makes your public worker bashing harder because many of the things they say are true. Because what was done to their pensions was simple theft?

      Reply

      • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 1:10 pm

        So what’s so “true” ?

        (1) the POB (Bonds) are “assets” that went INTO (not OUT OF) Pension Plan assets INCREASING the funding level. And those POBs were far GREATER than that year’s ARC.

        (2) While selling those POS screwed NJ’s Taxpayers, it ENHANCED the position of Public Sector Plans with a great deal of money that the Plans didn’t have to pay back (in principle or interest). The Taxpayers are on the hook for that.

        (3) You want the guilty party ….. it’s the successive administrations (i.e., the Elected Official BOUGHT with Public Sector Union campaign contributions and election support) that granted pensions (and benefits) so great that it became increasingly difficult to fully fund the Plans

        (4) And the “beneficiaries” of these grossly excessive pension & benefit promises are indeed the Public Sector WORKERS, so THAT is where the Taxpayers must look to right this wrong (perpetrated upon THEM …. because THEY are told they must pay for these absurd “promises), by VERY materially reducing these pension & benefit promises for the FUTURE Service of all CURRENT workers, …… AND to the extent financial circumstances dictate, for their (also grossly excessive) PAST service as well.

        Reply

  7. Not all nutcase, just trying to understand the full story and history of the demise of the pensions. Certaintly lots of blame to go around but maybe if you publics stopped way back when to get the full idea of what was happening and what it would mean for the future, you all would have started screaming at that time. Instead you took and took without question and now the situation appears to be beyond repair. It doesn’t matter what story fits my “narrative” I’m still sick of hearing the publics whining

    Reply

    • Posted by Sean on January 25, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Yep, and if you think their whining is bad now…just wait until very real changes are forced upon them. You’ll hear the usual “We paid our fair share,” “We were promised,” “THEY stole OUR money,” etc etc etc etc

      What you will NOT hear, EVER, is, “Gee, I guess it was unrealistic to expect the taxpayers to willingly roll over and get screwed again and again and again on our behalf. I guess there actually IS a limit to how many times we can go to that ATM.
      I guess our politician friends who lied to the taxpayers, also lied to us.”

      Reply

      • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 3:54 pm

        Like I said many times ….. the ROOT CAUSE of the financial mess is grossly excessive Public Sector pensions and benefits …… and the lack of fully funding is not the CAUSE of the mess we are in, but a CONSEQUENCE of that REAL root cause.

        Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 6:10 pm

        Sean, are you communicating at lunch or are you home due to snow. The legislation for NJ pensions has been readopted until 2022. The misery you seek for NJ public employees might visit you first, watch what you think. Did you start your job search?

        Reply

        • Posted by Sean on January 25, 2016 at 6:42 pm

          To answer your questions: No. No. and No.

          “legislation for NJ pensions has been readopted until 2022”

          And words on paper will catch up on all of those unfunded liabilities now, won’t they?

          Reply

          • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 8:00 pm

            The pensions will be paid from the state General fund Mr. I am angry because I need a new job.

  8. Posted by MJ on January 25, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is……..and a 30 year paid vacation with cadilac health benefits, vacation payouts, and other perks certainly does sound too good to be true…………the fair thing to do is too admit the problem and immediately reform things signifcantly so that current public workers have time to adjust or move onto more lucrative private sector jobs….ha ha

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Yes, per the pension FREEZE (and significantly lower healthcare subsidies) as proposed by the NJ pension Commission ….. but NOT by the “State” unloading ANY of what now is their responsibility onto the Local Governments.

      To the extent it is impossible for the State to fund even PAST service accruals, then reduce them, everybody (with a brain) knowing that they have been FAR too generous, unnecessary, unjust, unfair to Taxpayers, and unaffordable for decades.

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 9:47 pm

        Out of all your constant and annoying rants, the reality that pension administration will return to local and county government employers is closer to reality, see what happens when you remove the tinfoil hat, rational thinking.

        Reply

    • Posted by Sean on January 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Mamma was right: If it sounds too good to be true…it probably won’t get funded!

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 9:51 pm

        Sean, focus, find a better job, seriously what impact does NJ public employee pension woes have on your finances?

        Reply

        • Posted by Sean on January 25, 2016 at 10:32 pm

          None at all, really. I have a job that I love, a business that is growing, (as does my wife) and I will take care of my retirement needs on my own, which, frankly, I think EVERYONE should do.

          And THAT is why I have an interest in this. Philosophically speaking, I believe that no person, or group of persons, should ever be forced to pay for the retirement needs of another person, or group of people. Simple as that.

          If we can’t do this for everyone, why should we do this for anyone? We can’t, and we shouldn’t, and it looks like, in the end, we won’t.

          Pensions should be “universal,” in that, a person should have social security as a base, a defined contribution plan with a standard employer match, and then his/her own funds saved on top of that to invest and do as well as possible. Anyone with income too low to support that, should have maybe a safety net to help bridge that gap.

          The problem with public sector pensions, is that too much has been promised and given SOLELY because of the relationship between politicians and unions. Please do not try to tell me otherwise. I’ve worked in the public sector.

          And no, it’s not a jealousy thing, which seems to be the standard fallback of any public worker who doesn’t like to be confronted on it (“yeah, well, you’re just jealous!”). No, I am not. I feel the same way I do when I see someone pull into a handicapped parking space, put up the placard, then merrily walk to their destination. It may be “legal” but only because someone gamed the system, and it certainly isn’t right. And that person is benefiting beyond what is reasonable and fair, at the expense of others.

          With these pensions, I am mostly just an interested observer, knowing that the mathematics simply will not work. The psychology of those involved is fascinating to me, and I feel the same way about health care and higher education. I see those three things as bubbles that are going to burst. When? I do not know. I just know that they will.

          Reply

          • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 11:40 pm

            This is a blog about NJ public pension issues, you need to start your movement for angry underemployed private sector employees that support single payer retirement accounts. You nor your mentor TL have provided any proof of NJ union/elected collusion, would you use some of your work time blogging hrs to reveal your evidence.

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 26, 2016 at 12:22 am

            Sorry, BS doesn’t work here………..

            (a) yes, this Blog “focuses” on NJ’s pension problems, but it’s really a NATIONAL problem. Intelligent commentary for those outside of NJ should be welcome.

            (b) “Market Rate” compensation is reasonably set by the Private Sector where 85% of all workers are employed, and where employers freely compete unencumbered for needed talent ….. unlike in the Public Sector, where compensation is vastly distorted by the deal-making between the Public Sector Unions and our self-interested, vote-selling, taxpayer-betraying Elected Officials.

            But I don’t worry about it “fixing” itself. It ‘s a MATH problem and the end (of the current grossly excessive pension & benefit promises) is not far away … in NJ and MANY other States/Cities.

          • Posted by Sean on January 26, 2016 at 12:35 am

            Quoting Anonymous:

            “you need to start your movement for angry underemployed private sector employees…”

            Frankly, it sounds like you are the angry one. I’m not the least bit angry. I’m very pleased with my choices; I am simply convinced that this whole thing is going to end very badly. Sorry if that pisses you off.

            “You nor your mentor TL have provided any proof of NJ union/elected collusion, would you use some of your work time blogging hrs to reveal your evidence.”

            You ARE joking, right? If you are not joking, I would submit your willful ignorance as indication of a complete disconnect from reality by yet another public employee.

            There is a MOUNTAIN of evidence of collusion. Why don’t you get yourself a copy of Illinois Pension Scam by Bill Zettler, cozy up in your easy chair, and read hundreds of documented examples of the collusion between unions and elected officials. Or, simply write it off as being an “Illinois” thing and keep pretending it doesn’t happen in New Jersey. Or pick up a copy of Government Unions and the Bankrupting of America by Daniel DiSalvo. Of course, every public will jump out of the woodwork and write these guys off as Koch brothers shills, or any number of denigrating terms, so, where does it end? The real question is: Are there any valid, legitimate points these people are making?

            I really, REALLY have a hard time believing that you could look anybody in the eye and claim there’s no collusion, while maintaining a straight face. That’s really a stretch.

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 26, 2016 at 12:41 am

            Hers a rather blatant threat from a CA Union …. play the video:

            http://unionwatch.org/seiu-spokesperson-threatening-california-lawmakers-with-union-retaliation/

          • Posted by Sean on January 26, 2016 at 1:18 am

            TL: “Hers a rather blatant threat from a CA Union …. play the video:”

            But TL, don’t you know, this lady is just trying to defend middle class working families?

          • Posted by Sean on January 26, 2016 at 2:12 am

            Anonymous:

            “You nor your mentor TL have provided any proof of NJ union/elected collusion, would you use some of your work time blogging hrs to reveal your evidence.”

            From the new post on this site (Scary Pension History):

            “Rather than preserve this bounty, politicians used it as an excuse to HAND OUT YET MORE NEW GOODIES TO RETIRED WORKERS—and gave themselves holidays from contributions, to boot. EVEN AS the 1990s bull market COLLAPSED, New Jersey passed 13 SEPARATE BENEFIT ENHANCEMENTS between 1999 and 2003, PILING BILLIONS of dollars in new obligations on the pension system.”

            Collusion?

  9. Posted by MJ on January 25, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Once Whitman did that, wasn’t the 9% increase for pensions passed? and who got to vote on that?

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      The history of that boondoggle can be found here:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/04/nyregion/04pension.html

      FYI, it was in 2001 by Donald T. DiFrancesco, the acting governor.
      ———————————————

      You can bet that if the Taxpayers read the history (in that article) and known by our Legislators WHEN THEY VOTED, none but our insatiably greedy Public Sector workers would have voted for it …….. which is a good reason why Taxpayers should now renege on paying for it.

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 6:12 pm

        Take off that tinfoil hat it’s interrupting rational thinking, the pensions will be paid from the general fund like any other obligation.

        Reply

        • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 6:47 pm

          “Delusion” is a hard thing to overcome when your financial future is dependent on that delusional scenario materializing.

          Reply

          • Posted by Anonymous on January 25, 2016 at 8:03 pm

            Delusional is an actuary that believes ranting in the comment section of a blog amounts to real impact on the NJ state pension system.

        • Posted by Sean on January 25, 2016 at 6:48 pm

          What you are saying is true, and it will always be true, right up to the day it is no longer true. Then, something else will take over as true. Like Math.

          Bernie Madoff’s clients were all very happy, right up to the day the money stopped. Then, they were not.

          Meanwhile, the unfunded liability keeps growing, and growing, and growing.

          Reply

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm

            And Plan Assets have been dropping and dropping and dropping ………

            tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock

    • That was thanks to that idiot temporary governor DiFrancesco who was trolling for votes to become an actual governor before he was found out to be a dirtbag (imagine that in NJ). 9% increase in benefits to all pension plan participants (including those already receiving benefits) ostensibly to “retain” valuable public sector employees in the face of a surging stock market and possible losses of “talent” to the private sector. As if the drones would ever quit and/or anyone with half a brain would hire them!! Longevity pay for everyone!!! Can you imagine the chutzpah of this AH and his sycophants? Just one more chapter in the continuous and ongoing rape and pillaging of the private sector taxpayer.

      Reply

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