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"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

What Do You Think Now?

Back a couple of years ago when I was blogging a lot, I was in the habit of criticizing both Governor Christie and Mayor Tony Mack.  Well if there was any doubts about Mr. Mack, that was settled last year when he was shipped off to federal prison last year.  He'll be cooling his heels for five years for his role in a scheme where he collected "commissions" for approving actions by the city that benefited the people who put up the money.  This of course included the deal to approve a fake parking garage that was proposed and greased through by FBI agents posing as developers.

You got to hand it to him.  He was one enterprising dude who even associated with a corpulent Italian-American sandwich shop owner and  mobster wannabee who collected the money and passed it along to the mayor.  He once famously stated in a wiretapped phone conversation that the setup was just like Tammany Hall.  That just about says it all.

The people he appointed to key positions were just as sleazy as he was, including the municipal court judge who is now getting ready to go to federal court for extortion for shaking down immigrants by threatening them with deportation if they didn't pay up or the city manager who was caught buying heroin a block from City Hall.  Yes, these people of sterling character are what every town needs for leaders.

With Christie, the verdict is not as clear.  According to the latest polls, about a third of the state's voters still support the governor and approve with the way he is handling the state's affairs.  Perhaps this is a little higher than the approval rating or our convicted felon mayor, but still not impressive.  It reflects the share of state residents that are hard-core Republicans that would support and vote for anybody with an R behind their name, no matter what.

So what about the other two-thirds of the electorate, and why do they disapprove.  Perhaps it may have something to do with the fact that many people whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 still haven't gotten their money yet, while many others who have gotten paid still can not rebuild due to the state's Byzantine building permit approval process.  Or it might be due to Bridgegate, the scandal revolving around blocking off traffic to and from the George Washington Bridge because the mayor of the town on the Jersey side of the bridge wouldn't endorse the governor's reelection campaign for governor in 2013.  OK, so far no written record has connected the governor to the people in the Governor's Office and New York Port Authority that ordered the lane closures.  But no written records connect mafia dons to their subordinates when they do hits either.  No way did the bridge closures take place with the knowledge and consent of the governor.  He was just careful enough not to leave a trail.

Maybe some of the opposition also has to do with how our governor, who together with his wife, made $650,000 last year, wants to treat retirees.  No, his contempt for retirees goes deeper than a desire to cut benefits for folks who worked for state and local government in New Jersey.  While campaigning for president in New Hampshire, Christie proposed his fix for Social Security.  He wants to rails the retirement age to 70 and cut benefits for most retirees by as much as 20 percent.  True, he says this will only affect top wage earners, but what is exactly a top earner.  No they are not just CEOs and the like, but many middle class people as well.  In order to max out Social Security, workers need only earn a little over $100,000 a year, which is not exactly millionaire wages for someone in an urban state like New Jersey.  And we still do not know what the cutoff is for top earners.  Is it $60,000 a year or $50,000.  Some bus drivers make more than this.

Besides, the governor said basically who cares about Social Security.  Everybody should or as he and his stockbroker wife do.  They should build up a portfolio of investments.  Fine for you Governor, but you make $650,000 a year.  What about the rest of us.  Did you think that this statement comes across like Marie Antoinette's quote "let them eat cake.".

So the governor promises to do for Social Security what he so far has done for the state's public employee pension funds.  In 2011, he signed legislation where he promised to fully fund the pension in exchange for pensioners giving up annual cost of living increases and for workers contributing more to the fund.  He made the required contribution in 2012 and 2013  and trumpeted the law as the salvation of the pension system.

Starting in 2014, Christie sharply reduced contributions and violated the law he once praised.  In 2014 he refused to make the required contributions, because he said the state did not have the money to do this, give homestead rebates to low-income residents and seniors, pay for Medicaid or fund school districts.  The union sued and in June 2014, weeks before the end of the fiscal year the state Supreme Court sided with the governor for that year, saying it would cause too much disruption to require the governr to come up with the money, but warned him to fund the pension in future years.

Now it is 2015, and the governor is out to test the old adage about not having to listen to men in dresses.  After that's all supreme court judges are, just men in dresses.  And just like Stalin who once asked how many divisions does the Pope has, Cristie has total contempt for the power of the judiciary.  So, just like the wiseass he is, he took the pension money out of the budget that the legislature put in.  See in New Jersey we have the line item veto, which allows the governor to go through the budget to eliminate the items that the legislature included and take them out without vetoing the whole budget.  His reason again is he'd rather spend the state's tax revenue on the general fund rather than pensions and he refuses to consider tax increases.

Of course the unions sued.  The governor's argument now is that the promise in the 2011 pension law that the state fully fund the pension is unconstitutional because the legislature can not tell the governor how to spend the state's money and it is unconstitutional because there was no state referendum where voters got to approve spending state funds on pensions.  Of course he says the part of the law that raised worker contributions and suspended cost of living raises is still binding on the workers.

He wants his cake and eat it too.  He wants to courts to say he doesn't have to pay anything into the pension fund if he doesn't want to, but the workers still have to accept benefit cuts and higher contributions.  And to add insult to in jury, a recent Star-Ledger said that the money workers pay toward their pensions isn't going into the pension fund, but rather is being put into the general fund as is any other tax revenue.  I n short, tis money coming out of our paychecks that is supposed to be going toward pensions  is being stolen from us.

So far the case has made it through the Appellate Division and is scheduled for the state Supreme Court.  The appellate court says the state has to come up with the money.  This is correct.  Christie wanted the dog, he bought the dog, now he has to pay for the dog.  And now it doesn't matter what he wants  if the Supreme Court agrees, he will have to swallow the dog and find the money to pay no matter what.  So much for the power of men in dresses.

Come on now Christie.  You bill yourself as being a regular Jersey guy.  And part of being a regular guy is keeping your word.  You wanted the law, you got the law.  Now honor the law even if it means a tax increase.

Suppose the governor ignores the judicial crossdressers and does not pay up?  The fund will go dry in nine year according to our union.  Does that mean the state can somehow get out of their obligations.  Not if no one allows it to.  Federal bankruptcy law doesn't allow states to walk away from their debts.  States can't go bankrupt now because they are considered sovereign entities with the absolute power to tax.  They are like Paulie in Goodfellows.  Don't want to raise taxes....Pay me!  Can't find the money.....Pay me!  No money for pensions.....too bad, Pay Me!   That is because states can dax the last dime, and the federal government doesn't care.

After al the federal constitution says that states do not have the power to impair contracts.  In other words, if a state agrees to something, they must pay up.  Of course, given the current Republican trend on the national scene, Congress might try to get a constitutional admendment through that will allow states to declare bankruptcy.  This is doubtful though, for any law that will allow states to abandon pensions and revoke union contracts will also allow states to walk away from the claims of vendors and private bondholders.  In other words if the pensioners don't get paid, the capitalists don't get paid either.

Lets face it Mr. Christie.  You already screwed up your chances of being president.  So do the right thing.  Keep your word and pay into the pension fund to save future New Jersey taxpayers untold grief nine years down the road. 

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