Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pensions in the Age of GOP Math

Things are getting a bit complicated in New Jersey for Governor Christie, and that's having a major effect on when (and it will be when) he announces his bid for the presidency. Yes, he is waiting for the economy to improve and the George Washington Bridge scandal to go away, but now he's added what could be a signature accomplishment for him to run on: another public employee pension reform bill. This time, however, he won't have as many Democrats to help him.

Christie has been traveling the state telling some marvelous half-truths ant outright lies about the history of governmental pension neglect since the 1990s. He's even saying that the legislature is blocking pension funding when it's actually the good governor who took out the full funding from the 2015 budget with a line-item veto. When the legislature then passed a bill to have the state pay quarterly payments, he vetoed it and the Republicans who supported it the first time around would not vote to override. At a legislative dinner in March, State Senator Joe Pennacchio (District 26) was asked why that happened. His answer: "Christie is going to run for president. We didn't want to embarrass him."

So much for fiscal responsibility.

Now comes word that State Senate President Stephen Sweeney is saying the the legislature will include a full pension payment in the 2016 budget, which starts on July 1. That battle will define the struggle for the next two months, but Christie will veto anything that even smells of a tax increase or else he's going to be burnt toast in Iowa and South Carolina. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousand of public employees will have to sweat it out and worry that the pensions they've been promised will not be paid in full. And they've been making their payments reliably their whole careers.

But even if Christie doesn't win the nomination, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is now attracting gobs of Koch Brother money for his campaign, would be an even worse choice. He's been able to do what Christie has not when it comes to public employees, and that's to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. Imagine the nightmare scenario of a President Walker with a Republican Congress slashing taxes for the wealthy and slashing public programs and benefits for the middle class. Never mind that the number of working people who qualify for public assistance has increased in the last 10 years. The GOP loves to blame those lazy burger-flipping door-greeters (because many have two jobs) for their own problems while catering to the upper crust.

Blaming public workers and the working poor for America's fiscal problems has worked well for the GOP. It's time to fight back.

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