As reported on NJ.Com, Chris Christie urged Democrats in the state Legislature to work with him to overhaul the public workers’ retirement fund for a second time, or he would take “extreme measures” if they failed to cooperate.
“I’m ready work with the entire Legislature to come up with ideas to fix this, but if they’re unwilling to that do that, this is a problem we’re going to own,” Christie said during a town hall meeting in New Jersey, “I’m willing to take more extreme measures.”
Furthermore, expanding on this premonition, on his radio show on NJ 101.5 FM, Christie stated that he has “significant powers” through “executive action” to make changes to the pension system. The Governor declined to elaborate, however all Public employees throughout the State of New Jersey are well aware of the “executive actions” Christie is referring to as he removed the ability to collectively bargain for health care benefits through executive legislative action.
In his opening remarks, Christie repeated a line from the budget address that this year’s budget is smaller than the 2008 spending plan without pension, health care and debt service costs. The total spending plan — the largest in state history — is $34.4 billion and includes the full, legally required $2.25 billion pension payment. We will continue to follow this issue and keep our readers posted as it develops.
Linked below is a very interesting and powerful article published in Bloomberg Personal Finance that discusses the perils of various public employee pension systems across the United States. Every Public Employee in the State of New Jersey should take a few minutes to review this article to educate themselves regarding "the state" of Public Employee Pension Systems across America.
As reported by Cincinnati.com, there is currently a bill up for referendum tomorrow that will eliminate the public employee pension system and replace the same with a 401(k) style plan. The current situation in Cincinnati is similar to here in New Jersey, wherein the pension system is running an extremely high, unfunded liability. Therefore, a comprehensive review of this bill is appropriate given that a similar measure could eventually be proposed here in New Jersey.
What It’s About:
The future of the $2.1 billion Cincinnati city pension system, which covers about 4,000 current city workers and another 4,350 retirees (a total of 6,300 retirees, family members, and survivors are also on the city’s retiree health care plan).
What It Would Do:
If passed, the proposed amendment to the city charter would essentially eliminate the existing system, force the city to pay off any shortfalls, and replace the old system with a new 401(k)-style plan.
How Things Are Now:
The Cincinnati pension system is running an $870 million unfunded liability, meaning that is how short the plan would be in the future to meet future claims if the hole isn’t filled. The plan is about 61 percent funded, and a pension plan is considered healthy when it is more than 80 percent funded.
It would get Cincinnati city leaders out of the pension business, and end the practice of underfunding the pension system. It would also eventually get the city out from under its liability, strengthening its fiscal foundation.
The proposal includes a disputed requirement to pay off the $870 million liability in 10 years, which opponents and city officials argue means cuts in city services and higher taxes. Officials also argue that other proposed changes and cuts to the plan would make it healthy within 10-12 years.
Whose For It:
A group of local conservative political activists who formed Cincinnati for Pension Reform, using much of the language for the proposal from others that passed in cities such as San Jose, Calif. And San Diego. State workers in Michigan and Alaska have also seen their pensions overhauled. In addition, several are tea party groups have endorsed the measure.
Whose Against It:
Unions representing Cincinnati city workers, the pro-business Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, all of City Council, both mayoral candidates. Unions and other groups have formed two committees: Cincinnati for Pension Responsibility and Citizens for Responsible and Accountable Government.
Please check this blog periodically to determine the outcome of this referendum as the same could have an enormous impact going forward.
As reported by nj.com, the Democratic-controlled Board of Chosen Freeholders in Bergen County is scheduled to take a final vote Wednesday on an ordinance that makes the 88-member County Police Department a division of the Sheriff’s Office.
Four Democrats and two Republicans will likely vote to approve the merger. County Executive Kathleen Donovan has indicated that she will veto the ordinance. Because the Freeholders have enough votes to override her veto, Donovan will probably take the issue to court.
Democrats say the measure would save between $90 million and $200 million over 25 years and not result in any layoffs. But Republican Maura DeNicola, the lone Freeholder opposed to the merger, said the plan would eventually reduce manpower, even without layoffs.
The debate over whether the departments should consolidate has simmered for more than a decade. Last year, the then-Republican-controlled Board put forth a similar merger proposal, but it failed.
As reported in NJ.COM on September 2, 2013, Police and Firefighters across New Jersey are walking away from the negotiations table with much less money.
Since January of 2011 — following a wave of reforms that capped municipal spending and arbitration awards — Police and Firefighter Unions have signed at least 160 new contracts, according to the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission.
The average annual wage increase for those contracts was around 1.86 percent, the lowest bump in at least two decades, PERC records show. The drop is happening in all contracts, whether negotiated or awarded by an arbitrator, and suggests a seismic shift in police and fire negotiations.
After reviewing the figures a Christie spokesman stated “We all know that the key and reasonable complaints of many in New Jersey is property taxes, and one of the key drivers was arbitration awards that were in the 3 and 4 percent range,” “Reasonable salaries are important to police and fire personnel, but the indisputable result was runaway increases that were not sustainable, particularly when we entered a period of recession.”
In 2010, Christie and Democratic lawmakers who control the Legislature enacted a 2 percent cap on local tax growth. But they said the levy cap would be impossible to manage if arbitrators awarded new contracts to police and fire unions — the biggest expense in many towns — that included salary increases above 2 percent.
So, Christie and lawmakers took the dramatic step of capping arbitration awards at 2 percent, too, the only state in the nation to enact such a restriction. They also dramatically sped up the arbitration process and required arbitrators to consider the full compensation package, such as longevity pay and step increases — not just salaries — as counting toward the cap.
The arbitration caps are set to expire in April unless the Legislature extends them, setting up one of the first legislative battles of the year. A task force was created to evaluate the caps, and its most comprehensive report is expected to be issued next month.
Christie wants to extend them, but his opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), who supported the 2010 reform, is taking a wait-and-see approach.“Sen. Buono believes that the only responsible way to address this issue is to review the findings of the interest arbitration task force, evaluate revenues and sit down with stakeholders,” Buono spokesman David Turner said. “Then, as governor, she will weigh in after analyzing their final report.”
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), one of the most vocal supporters of the cap, said any lawmaker who doesn’t support its extension “needs to go back to remedial math.” “You can’t have a levy cap without an arbitration award cap. It’s completely contradictory,” O’Scanlon said. “You can’t say we are going to cap the amount you can raise to pay your bills and then let an arbitrator hand out higher awards on your biggest budget line item.”
O’Scanlon also said the real power of the reform law is that it requires arbitrators to consider the full compensation package. He said historical records of salary increases are misleading because they fail to take into account other perks like longevity pay and step increases.
As reported by nj.com, Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s call to end private prisons has drawn the ire of one of his staunchest and most powerful political allies: Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. In a far reaching proposal to reform America’s prison system, Booker had harsh words for the privately owned prison industry saying it created a disincentive to reforming offenders and reducing recidivism.
Booker, the Democratic nominee to replace the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, laid out the policy as broader scheme to fix America’s prison system. “I am fundamentally against private prisons,” he said. “There’s a profit motive to warehouse human beings. Think about what we’re paying people for…there’s a perversion when we get to bondage and holding human beings.”
DiVincenzo fired back, saying Booker’s statement was “shortsighted and inaccurate.” “Cory is the best candidate for U.S. Senate, but in this issue we disagree,” he said. DiVincenzo has a longstanding relationship with Community Education Centers, a for-profit prison company that has been a significant revenue generator for the county.
The county’s use of private prisons came under scrutiny in 2011 when a report alleged cronyism and pay-to-play violations stemming from donations to DiVincenzo made by John Clancy, Community Education Centers’ CEO. William Palatucci, a former lawyer for CEC, is also a close friend of Gov. Chris Christie.
DiVincenzo said private prisons have yielded positive results in Essex County. “For many years, we have partnered with a private detention center to provide inmates who meet certain criteria with drug and alcohol treatment, as well as life skills training,” he said. “This proactive approach has proven results in helping our inmates get their lives back in order and reducing recidivism among those being incarcerated at the Essex County Correctional Facility.”
As reported by nj.com, an open-government activist is suing Ewing Township for allegedly violating the Open Public Records Act by refusing to disclose part of a police officer’s salary. John Paff, the chairman of the Open Government Advocacy Project of the State Libertarian Party, said that he heard from confidential sources that Ewing was withholding payroll information that is supposed to be open to the public.
Paff, a Somerset County resident, said he is working to resist efforts by local governments to decrease transparency. “This is a case where they’re trying to close the door a little bit and we’re trying to push it back open,” he said.
In June, after hearing that Ewing was not properly disclosing information related to “extra pay” of police officers, Paff said he picked one officer at random and requested his complete 2012 salary information, broken down into different categories: regular pay, overtime pay, longevity pay, and extra pay.
Extra pay is different from off-duty pay, Paff said. Off-duty pay is what a police officer makes when he works at a job unrelated to his official work, such as serving as a bouncer at a bar. Extra pay is what an officer makes when a contractor pays the town to have a police officer work in his official capacity such as when officers handle traffic at a construction site, he said.
Ewing sent the officer’s salary information to Paff, but redacted the extra pay information. Paff said he then informed them that if they did not provide what he believed was public information, he would sue. Last week he announced on his website, NJ Open Government Notes, that he filed suit. “This is an ongoing battle between people who want access and people who want secrecy,” he said.
In addition to suing for access, Paff is also suing to cover the cost of the legal fees and filing costs for this suit the Complaint said. Paff won a lawsuit against Lawrence earlier this year after the town refused to disclose terms of a settlement between a former police officer and the police department.
As reported by nj.com, the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association scoffed at Governor Chris Christie’s call for Mercer County to consider creating a regional police force like Camden County’s to quell violence in Trenton, saying what the city and police really need is money to hire more officers.
“The significant increase in violent crime in Trenton recently is a direct result of the layoff of more than 100 police officers,” P.B.A. President Anthony Wieners said in a statement. Christie said Wednesday that the regionalization of the police force in Camden has already created a “good trend” in crime reduction. With Trenton nearing a record number of homicides this year, the Governor called on Mercer County politicians to have the “political courage” to consider creating a regional force.
Critics have said the Camden County police plan is too new to consider a success and called it a union-busting effort. “There are no disputes between the city and the local PBA over a contract as there was between Camden and the FOP which led to the creation of a county police department,” said Wieners, referring to the Fraternal Order of Police union. “Abolishing the Camden Police Department was always about breaking the FOP contract and the deal only works if the State continues to pump tens of millions into the city of Camden.”
Wieners said that kind of money would be better spent on hiring more officers in Trenton, which saw two officers injured in a shooting last week and 30 homicides so far this year. “Our officers, two of whom were shot recently, come to work in danger every day while struggling in quiet dignity to serve the people of Trenton,” he said. “This situation calls for more cops, not political messages designed to perpetuate the myth that a union, particularly the State P.B.A., is somehow an impediment to a solution.”
As reported on NJ.COM yesterday, Governor Christie stated publicly that Mercer County should consider creating a regional police force to handle soaring violence in Trenton, a city whose police department is overwhelmed by current conditions. This morning, NJ.Com has reported the initial reactions from many politicians in the Mercer County area.
Tony Mack, the Mayor of Trenton, who has been indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for corruption based charges, noted that although the Camden County force was first proposed in 2011, new officers are only just hitting the streets in the city of Camden. “We have a very real issue with telling our residents to wait two years for basic quality of life that other communities enjoy all day every day,” Mack said in an e-mail. “Trentonians need relief now.”
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said he would be willing to talk about any solution that would quell the violence in Trenton. “I would love to sit down with the governor and all the mayors of Mercer County to see if we can find talking points, because we are willing to do anything to bring down the violence in the city of Trenton,” Hughes said. He added that the county has provided funding via the prosecutor’s office and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office to support Trenton police in its campaign against gun violence.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) said she would need to see more concrete results in Camden before she would support a county police force. “I don’t think there is empirical research that says this will work better,” Watson Coleman said. “Christie doesn’t have any evidence that it works, and since he doesn’t give the capital city the attention it needs, he is in no place to shoot from the hip.”
Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said Christie’s recommendation is “worth exploring.” “Without completely studying it and coming up with a plan I couldn’t say if it would work,” he said.
Assemblyman Reed Guscioria (D-Trenton) said he is intrigued by the idea but noted that a countywide force would be opposed by police unions and officers seeking to protect their fiefdoms and pay grades.
George Dzurkoc, the president of Trenton’s Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 11, took umbrage at Christie’s comments. “He’s questioning our ability to police our city, and the only reason we’re having that difficulty is because he cut the funding,” Dzurkoc said. Police and city officials have repeatedly said the cut in Capital City Aid in 2010 by Christie’s administration was the main driver of mass layoffs a year later that took one-third of the department and still have the force down 140 positions. “The only people who are handcuffed in the city are the cops,” Dzurkoc said.
Hughes said he did discuss the implementation of a county force in 2011, when Camden’s was being considered, but former Mayor John Bencivengo said Hamilton would not join a countywide police force. “When you had your largest municipality, out of the box, saying they wouldn’t participate, it is difficult to move forward from there,” Hughes said. He said Mercer County is a partisan county, making it more difficult for all municipalities to agree. Christie should spearhead such an initiative, Hughes said. “If he could lend his political heft to providing some leadership, that might help,” he said.
State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) said all municipalities in the county should have an interest in stopping violence in Trenton. “Trenton is not an island, our borders are very porous,” Turner said. “What happens in Trenton can very easily spill over into other areas. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”
We will continue to provide information on this issue as the same becomes available. We will also attempt to obtain information regarding the Camden County Police Force and how the implementation of the same has affected officers on a county wide basis.
On August 21, 2013, NJ.COM reported that Governor Chris Christie said Mercer County should follow Camden County’s lead and consider instituting a regional police force to address violence in Trenton.
"I believe if Trenton wants to really repair its public safety system, that they should look to Camden as a model and that they should look to Camden County freeholders in Mercer County," Christie said during a news conference.
"There's no similarities to what's going on in Trenton," Christie said. "What's going on in Trenton is what we used to do here in Camden, which is when things would spike we'd send in the State Police for a period of time to try to quell some of the violence. Then state police would leave and the violence would spike back up again."
In Camden, a county police force replaced city officers, a tactic some have criticized as a union-busting scheme. He praised Camden County freeholders and encouraged Mercer County freeholders to follow suit.
"Now that's going to take the political courage they had here in Camden," Christie said. "So let's stop playing the public sector union politics and let's start playing the public safety priority in this state."
This is a story we will follow closely. Tomorrow we will have the NJ State PBA’s response as I am sure President Wiener’s and his staff are busy preparing it at this very moment.
New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms that a Local Police Department's Internal Rules And Regulations Do Not Need To Be Enacted By Way Of A Local Ordinance
On August 19, 2013, the Appellate Division for the Superior Court of New Jersey released an unpublished opinion that affirmed the Trial Court’s decision to dismiss the FOP’s complaint that sought to vacate an arbitration award. In the matter entitled, 25-2-1046 Fraternal Order of Police - New Jersey Labor Council Inc. v. Township of Pennsville, App. Div. the FOP appealed from a Chancery Division order that dismissed its complaint in which it sought to vacate an arbitration award upholding a disciplinary action against a patrolman.
The Appellate Division found that N.J.S.A. 40:14-118 empowers the governing body of a municipality to adopt an ordinance establishing a police department and delegating to others the authority to prepare rules and regulations for the control of that department and the discipline of its members, without the need for a separate ordinance. Additionally, the Court went on to further state that the ordinance did not contravene N.J.S.A. 40:14-118 by designating the mayor as the appropriate authority responsible for the overall performance of the police department while designating the Township Committee as the body responsible for adoption of the department's Rules and Regulations.
Therefore, since the patrolman was disciplined under validly enacted rules and regulations, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court that dismissed the complaint to vacate the arbitration award and upheld the discipline that was handed down to the patrolman.
In essence, this case affirms the premonition that a local police department’s internal rules and regulations do not have to be enacted by way of adopting a local ordinance.