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NJ Firefighters Fight Back: Rallying In Trenton Next Week

NJ Firefighters Fight Back: Rallying In Trenton Next Week

Photo Courtesy of CliffviewPilot.com

By Jerry DeMarco | Publisher/Editor CLIFFVIEWPILOT.com

February 24, 2011

Read the original article at: CliffviewPilot.com

TRENTON, NJ – Police and firefighters from throughout New Jersey plan to descend on Trenton on March 3 in a “Stand Up for Safety” rally aimed at countering Gov. Christie’s plan to roll back public employee benefits. “We have had enough and want to send a message,” State PBA member Jim Ryan told Cliffview Pilot.

“Our hope is that politicians will think twice after they see our numbers,” said Ryan, of South Brunswick.

Christie continued his assault this morning on public servants’ unions — first on NBC’s “Today Show” and then on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” — blaming them for everything from layoffs to rising property taxes to the state’s under-funded pension system.

“We’re not trying to break the unions,” he said. “The unions are trying to break the middle class in New Jersey.”

It is a message that other governors have been selling — with national attention focused on the battle in Wisconsin — as part of what clearly is a coordinated campaign.

Christie has been conducting his campaign “in the court of public opinion," one officer told Cliffview Pilot. "He held it without ‘the defense‘ (the Unions) screaming ‘objection.’ He [is] able to state his case, rest his case, and now, has worked with allies in government to sentence our pension system and financial stability to death.”

The only way to pay the state’s health care bill, Christie insists, is to significantly boost insurance premiums for hundreds of thousands of police, firefighters and teachers.

“What has been done to the police and fire pension in my opinion is no different than what Bernie Madoff did to all of those who entrusted him with ther reirement/401K plans,” Monroe Twp. Police Sgt. Lisa Robinson told Cliffview Pilot.

“I am concerned that after all of my years of dedication and service, there will be no money available when I retire that was promised to me.

Christie’s plan requires public workers to pay for a third of their individual plan. They now pay 1.5 percent. Using teachers as an example, he said, one who makes $60,000 would go from paying $900 a year to $7,333 for the same plan.

Christie said that would stem the $4.3 billion a year paid from state coffers for current and retired public servants.

What it will also do is force many to choose plans with higher deductibles and co-pays. Those plans also limit the pool of providers.

Citing “fairness and shared sacrifice,“ Christie also wants to roll back a 9-percent pension increase granted a decade ago and require all public servants to pay in 8.5 percent toward retirement. This, he said, would chop $34 billion worth of unfunded liability in half over three decades.

For the state’s public workers, it amounts to a breached agreement.

“This tough-guy attitude might play well for awhile with some [who] can’t think for themselves,” said Richard Scalzo, a retired Secaucus police captain. “The taxes in the state are high, no doubt about it. Yet he seems to think destroying the public services are the way to save money.”

Forty years ago, a police officer or firefighter made roughly $7,500 a year — double the minimum wage at the time. But as the economy exploded, and the cost of living swelled, towns found themselves begging for public servants.

Legislators in Trenton actually had to pass a law in 1984 setting the minimum salary of public employees at $18,500, about 2.5 times minimum wage.

They also began requiring police officers and firefighters to contribute 8.5 percent of their salaries into a ‘secure’ pension fund, saying the money would be there when the public servants retired.

Municipalities originally were mandated to match. But then-Governor Christie Whitman began drawing down from what had been a pension fund that topped out at $100 billion to pay for tax cuts and to balance the state budget.

She then signed a law that allowed municipalities to duck the match. Before long, they owed $2 billion — a figure that has since ballooned to $54 billion.


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