As reported by NJ.com, from behind a podium on the Statehouse steps, Hetty Rosenstein briefly subdued a big crowd of public employees with the personal story of how her late father’s pension, earned over decades as head librarian of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, saved her mother’s home. “She pays her taxes and her expenses each day as she looks out at her quince tree, at a dogwood, at tulips she planted…and watches her vegetable garden grow,” said Rosenstein, New Jersey director of the Communications Workers of America. “It takes a special kind of carelessness and cruelty to be willing to burn down the American dream that my father worked so hard to achieve.” She, like other speakers at the massive lunchtime rally, vowed to fight cuts to the public employee pension system in the Legislature and the courts. “To any politician or millionaire financier or commission member, if you would let the accomplishment of my father and all husbands and wives to strive to make sure that they’ve taken care of their children…to you I say we will fight you to our very last breath,” Rosenstein shouted.
The rally was planned to coincide with a Superior Court hearing on Governor Chris Christie’s cuts to the public employee retirement system. The oral arguments were postponed, but the rally went on as planned, with hundreds of public workers swarming the Statehouse in Trenton. Workers clad in red, blue or green t-shirts carried signs imploring the Governor to “fund the pension” and “obey the law.” The pension law at the center of the fight requires the State to increase payments into the public employees pension fund, while also freezing cost of living adjustments, raising the retirement age, and forcing workers to contribute more for their retirement. A trial court judge ruled in February that Christie broke the pension law when he slashed $1.57 billion from this year’s payment, and Christie appealed the ruling to the State Supreme Court. The unions also sued in Superior Court over Christie’s plans to underfund the next budget’s payment by about $1.8 billion.
Christie has said the 2011 deal, which he had declared would save the pensions, is too costly and is unconstitutional. At a town hall last month, Christie said there was no “money tree” to meet the unions’ demands. “Here’s the problem,” Christie told the Cedar Grove town hall crowd, “You’re the money tree. They’re Robin Hood, alright: They’re gonna take it from you, and give it to them.” Facing a $50 billion unfunded liability and several pension funds that will run dry within a dozen years, he has proposed a massive overhaul that would offer workers less generous retirement and health benefits.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who partnered with Christie on 2011 pension reforms, initially received a mixed welcome from the crowd. But he reminded the workers of his efforts to raise taxes on millionaires to fund the pension and intervene in the Supreme Court fight on their behalf. “The governor says he can’t make the payment. That’s bull you-know-what,” Sweeney said. “If this was in the private sector, this would be theft.” Sweeney last week introduced a bill to raise another $675 million for pensions in the budget year beginning July 1 by hiking taxes on income over $1 million, a move Christie argued will drive affluent residents out of the State.