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NJ Governor Chris Christie is prepared to champion a series of public employee pension and benefit reforms which he claims will save our state billions of dollars going forward. And if he was looking to put a band-aid on our state's structural fiscal problems he might be off to a good start. But we need real systemic change and these proposals fall short.
The proposals would require workers and retirees at all levels of government and local school districts to contribute to their own health care costs, ban part-time workers at the state and local levels from participating in the underfunded state pension system, cap sick leave payouts for all public employees and constitutionally require the state to fully fund its pension obligations each year.
Sounds tough, right?
Here are his "reforms":
Requiring all current public employees to contribute at least 1.5 percent of their annual salaries toward their health benefits, and all future retirees to contribute at least 1.5 percent of their base pension to their health benefits.
One and half percent? Is he kidding? If their plan costs taxpayers $10,000 a year that's a measly $150 bucks. Tie their contribution to the cost of the plan. Make it at least half the premium. Then the employee will carry an incentive to keep health care costs down.
And what's with "future retirees"? Make every retiree pony up some cash! Especially if they've left the state! If NJ was good enough while you were suckling at the public teat then by golly it ought to be where you spend your golden years.
Changing how pension payments are calculated, and who qualifies for a pension, for future employees at all levels of government. That includes repealing a 9 percent increase in benefits put in place in 2001, factoring in the highest five years of salary instead of three years to determine pension payouts, and banning part-time workers from participating in the pension system. State employees would have to work 35 hours a week and local employees 32 hours a week to qualify.
Why doesn't this extend to current employee and retirees? The 9 percent pension bump was a gift. Take it away! Take it away from everyone! Calculating pensions based on 5 years instead of three won't end the abuses; throw out the last 5 years. That's when they pad the overtime. Just look at Port Authority cops or exiled legislators in cushy jobs. They rack up the overtime just to send their pensions into the stratosphere. In fact, overtime should never be a factor in pension calculations.
Enrolling future part-time employees at all levels of government in a defined-contribution plan instead, and raising the minimum annual pay to participate to $5,000 from $1,500. Current part-timers would continue in the pension system as long as they remain continuously employed.
Dump all of the part-timers right now. Keeping current part-timers in the plan just perpetuates a blatant avenue for abuse. How many people with insufficient years of service are parked on a part-time job just to pad their pension? Thousands? Every defeated legislator seems to end up on some obscure authority or board for the sole purpose of continuing his participation in the state pension plan. It's time to drop these hangers-on from the system.
Capping payouts for unused sick leave at $15,000 for all public employees, mirroring the limit already in place at the state level, and limiting stored vacation time.
Sick days are for when you're sick. If you're not sick, you shouldn't get to bank them for future use, or cash them out. At the same time, supervisory discretion should be available for catastrophic illness. If you're really sick, and you don't have "enough" sick days, allowances should be made.
Governor Christie's proposals are more than reasonable. In my opinion they're far short of what needs to be done in order to rein in excessive pensions costs and abuses. There is no reason that any public employee should be permitted to retire at full pension prior to the prevailing Social Security retirement age. Teachers can walk out at age 55. Cops can hit the beach after 20 years. Yet those of us who pay their salaries and benefits have to work far longer before we can relax, and we're still taxed day and night to pay for public employee benefits.
Come on Governor. We elected you to fix our state's fiscal mess. Strike
while the iron is hot and end the public employee gravy train once and for all.
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