NJEA demands full pension funding
‘No further discussion’ with pension commission
Published on Tuesday, April 21, 2015
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer issued the following statement today:
“NJEA has notified the New Jersey Pension and Benefits Study Commission that our sole focus is on ensuring that our members’ current pensions are fully funded by the state, and that no further discussion will be occurring between NJEA and the Commission.
“The State Superior Court has ruled unequivocally that the law signed by Governor Christie – Chapter 78 of the Acts of 2011 – is crystal clear. It requires the state to make the full annual required contributions to the pension funds.
“Our members have complied fully with Chapter 78, paying millions of dollars more each year into their pensions and for their health insurance premiums, even while the law made deep cuts in their pension benefits. In fact, since the governor took office in 2010, our members have paid two-and-a-half times what the state paid into pensions, while also paying up to 35 percent of the cost of their health insurance.
“The law is the law. Governor Christie signed Chapter 78, and he needs to obey it by making the full annual contribution this year, next year, and every year beyond, as the statute explicitly requires.
‘Not a buffet table’
“As the governor stated during his recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire: ‘When you say you are going to do something, you do it.’ I couldn’t agree more, and that includes following the law he signed.
“We look forward to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling on the governor’s appeal. Chapter 78 is not a buffet table, and Governor Christie cannot be allowed to pick and choose which portions of the law apply to him.
“We also call upon the New Jersey Legislature to place a budget on the governor’s desk that includes the full statutorily required pension funding, as they did last year, when the governor vetoed that funding. And we applaud the legislative leadership for joining the litigation challenging the governor’s actions.
“Last September, NJEA agreed to meet with members of the Commission after actuaries reported that the governor’s pattern of underfunding the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) could lead to the fund’s collapse as early as 2027.
“NJEA and the Commission agreed there had to be a mechanism for guaranteed responsible pension funding. In its initial report, the Commission placed the blame for the dire condition of TPAF squarely where it belonged – on the state’s failure to meet its obligations over the past 20 years.
No consensus with Commission
“These factors formed a solid basis for our conversations with Commission members. However, as those discussions went on, it became obvious the Commission was going to make recommendations to which we could not agree: forcing employees to pay to repair their pensions with even deeper cuts in their health benefits; expanding the current statutory premium costs for employees; and undermining their collective bargaining rights.
“Ultimately, there was no consensus reached on any of the broad concepts we discussed with the Commission, and there are serious concerns about some of those concepts.
“Some positive things did result from our conversations with the Commission. Its work, and the research that drove it, have sensitized the entire state to the seriousness of the pension crisis in New Jersey. As a result, this problem has the attention of everyone from our members to the entire New Jersey Legislature.
“In addition, NJEA – in partnership with other unions, organizations representing physicians and nurses, and other partners – has also been able to advance new health care ideas that for the first time promise to contain the cost of health insurance long-term without further shifting costs to employees and their families.
“Those ideas could lead to significant savings for both our members and the state without diminishing benefits. The Design Committee of the School Employee Health Benefit Program is now considering these ideas, which is potentially great news for all New Jerseyans.
“Finally, if we had it to do over again, we would never have signed the memo describing concepts we discussed with the Commission. It was misrepresented by the governor, and that distracted everyone from the real priority: requiring the state to fund the pensions for which our members have paid their share, on each and every payday throughout their careers.
“In the end, the only signature that is binding is Governor Christie’s signature on Chapter 78, and we call on the Supreme Court to order him to live up to the law by funding our members’ pensions.”