By David Cruz
Democratic state lawmakers made cameo appearances at today’s demonstration, a symbol of just how little they can actually do to stop the governor’s executive order this week, which cut $900 million from the state’s contribution to the pension system.
“Something’s wrong here. It’s revenues, not spending and the speaker and I are gonna stand shoulder and shoulder to fight to ensure we get a millionaire’s tax done, but to be more fair, and make sure he starts paying his pension,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“We actually have been protecting the mega-rich while the working class and the poor have been crushed under this administration,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
The small group of demonstrators were mostly on their own, chanting and threatening political retribution on a governor who has repeatedly dismissed them.
“Engage in a meaningful way in robust pension and health benefit reform and tell the truth to your members,” Gov. Chris Christie said.
“The fact of the matter is you don’t get to just say I have a crisis in terms of what my debt is in terms of my house and that means I don’t have to pay my mortgage payment at all. You have to make this payment and you have to make plans for the future,” said Communications Workers of America New Jersey Director Hetty Rosenstein.
But is there even a future for the state’s pension system? With over $50 billion in unfunded liabilities are workers simply deluding themselves into thinking that there will even be a pension for them in retirement?
“The big unfunded liability is over long period of time and again if, perhaps some more redefining the benefits program, making changes in both cost and pay ins and making contributions to put it again back on some sort of a track to make those obligations,” said Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy Economist Joseph Seneca.
While inside the State House, some union members watched — silent and sullen — as lawmakers heard more dire budget news, the talk outside was about shared sacrifice and economic justice.
“I think they are starting to learn that this governor has protected the millionaires and it’s time for everyone to sacrifice. Working people have been sacrificing during this governor’s term. It’s now time to look elsewhere,” said New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer.
Still, there was a half-hearted feeling to today’s rally with some demonstrators leaving in the middle of some of the dozen or so speeches, promising a larger rally in the near future.
The governor’s critics here say his reneging on his commitment to fully fund the pension system is the final straw. The time for compromise is over, said one. We’ll see him in court.