Monday, May 16, 2005

Hands Off, Indeed

Today, there is a rally in Trenton with the theme "Hands Off Our Benefits!" This is a rally to let NJ government officials know that state employees like teachers and policemen do not want their pension plans changed. Talk of "entitlements" is inflammatory, and people wish to make their point that they work hard, and the benefits they receive are what they were granted in contract negotiations. Teachers and police officers receiving pensions are not living off the fat of the land, they worked hard doing tough, important jobs, and a degree of security in their old age is something they earned, not something that New Jersey is providing them out of generosity.

In this article, Hopefuls call for pension reforms, William G. Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities is quoted as saying,
"In many cases, it's too late (for reform)," Dressel said. "The police and fire system is one of the richest that exists in the nation. The teachers system is one of the most generous. It's indicative of the powerful interest groups they represent."
Perhaps it is one of the richest in the nation. I don't' have that information available to me, so it's a bit hard for me to tell. But I wonder, is it second richest in the nation? Because according to the U.S. Government's Census Bureau, NJ is number 2 as far as average personal per-capita income goes. When you factor in that NJ is consistently in the top ten highest rated states for cost of living (actual rankings I found averaged out at number 5), it only makes sense that our pension plans are "rich". How much do you want to bet that the amount of money we give our state retirees is not ranked second? The biggest complaints about spending in New Jersey is about how property taxes pay for schools, so school spending obviously has to be cut to lower the taxes. You think of the fifty states we rank second in school spending? I assure you, we do NOT.

I have read what the politicians are saying about the pension reforms they wish to make, and all of them cite people who take part time government positions and "tack" together the pension plans available from these minimal-effort jobs into an amount of money that mimics what a full-time worker makes. You hear that someone worked 5 jobs that required 10 hours a week of their time put together, and that now they'll receive a pension of $60,00 a year, on *top* of any income they receive. No, I don't think that's fair. No one thinks that's fair. Surely, though, there's a way to take care of this that doesn't penalize other state workers? The talk is of eliminating the possibility of pensions for part-time positions. This sounds fair until you think about a fire fighter in a 35-hour-per-week part time position for 20 years. Or a person working as a classroom aide who is considered part time because that will never be "classified" as a full-time position. These are people's careers, and appropriate pensions should not be denied them.

We need to find another way to eliminate this problem, a way that doesn't punish the people who have been generous enough to spend their working years making the rest of our lives better and safer.

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