O’Scanlon: We MUST move forward on pension and budget reform

By Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

Now that the 2016 budget debate is over, we must get back to the most pressing state issue of our time.  The suggestion of some in the public worker sector that those of us who voted against the budget are in favor of our abandoning our commitment to ensuring their pensions is completely false.  For any responsible elected official, and decent human being, it is imperative that we meet our commitments in a way that protects our pubic workers – and the NJ economy at the same time.

The reason we couldn’t make a payment larger than the $1.3 billion one included in the Governor’s budget has nothing to do with a lack of will or integrity.  It’s about devoting as much $ as possible without inflicting massive, economy-killing, tax increases on an economy just now showing signs of real growth.  Without economic growth there will be no chance we will be able to meet our commitments to the system in the many years to come – so ensuring growth is as important to public workers as anyone else.  We don’t simply have a $1.8 billion deficit this year. We have a $6 to $7 billion hole over the next few years. Taxing the life out of our economy this year, with no plan going forward – and leaving us in a $2 billion hole next year as the Democrat’s proposed budget would – is bad policy, for all New Jerseyans.

But it is true as well that we can’t foster growth to the exclusion of our obligation to our dedicated public workers.  And I can’t state that point vehemently enough.  Our teachers and other public workers are decent, devoted, professional people.  Generalizations to the contrary are without merit.

It is also true that the $1.3 billion – while one of the largest contributions ever – doesn’t meet the level we promised in the 2011 reforms.  There is no one that’s happy about that.  But the recovery we have experienced nationally – admittedly particularly here in NJ – hasn’t met the reasonable expectations the parties to the agreement relied on. Before we all jump into attack mode, placing blame and pointing fingers, let’s understand that the growth projections came from unbiased actuaries that relied on data from previous recoveries over 75 years.  There was no nefarious plot.  Governor Christie and Senator Sweeney relied on those projections in good faith. Find a boogieman somewhere else.  And you can’t blame Christie administration policies for the low growth in NJ. He has only argued for more, pro-growth policies.  Nothing this administration has done can legitimately be suggested to have depressed economic growth.

But now, all that came before is irrelevant.  We MUST move on – together – and solve our overarching budget issues – which essentially encompass pension funding.  We can’t afford to miss this opportunity – where our challenges are so acute and the solutions so close at hand at the same time.  We have better and more comprehensive data – about the depth of our challenge and the substance of our options – than we have ever had before.  The Pension Review Commission report and plan are incredible documents.  Their comprehensiveness and detailed solutions are unlike anything produced by NJ government previously.  And public workers should hesitate before condemning the Commission.  These people are a bi-partisan group of the most substantive folks ever assembled for such a task.  Many of them Democrats.  Tom Byrne is a former Democrat State Chairman and an expert on government finance. Tom Healy, who spearheaded the effort, is eminently qualified, and no partisan.

Governor Christie didn’t stack this Commission.  His choices were honorable and dedicated to real assessment and solution.

Those solutions include enshrining a payment schedule in the constitution (which should ally the oft-mentioned trust issue), will not cut accrued pensions and won’t be too painful for our public workers.  Going from “platinum” level health plans to some still north of “gold” shouldn’t be an outrageous proposition.  And nothing is set in stone.  Given our growth projections and other positive signs, the reforms need not be draconian – if we act now.  Anyone whose plan it is to simply wait out the next few years expecting a new, more malleable Governor should think twice.  The challenges will remain – but the hole will be deeper and the remedies more painful.

Our children and grandchildren will talk about this moment in one of two ways – either how their parents came together to rise above politics and seize this opportunity to fix New Jersey, or how we abdicated our responsibility and blew the last chance to save her.  If necessary I am willing to expend the last breath of my political career fighting for the former.

Declan O’Scanlon is the New Jersey Assembly Republican Budget Officer. He represents the 13th Legislative District (Northern Monmouth County) in the General Assembly

Posted: July 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: 2015 Legislative Races, Declan O'Scanlon, Economy, Monmouth County, Monmouth County News, New Jersey, New Jersey State Budget, NJ State Legislature, Opinion | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments »

13 Comments on “O’Scanlon: We MUST move forward on pension and budget reform”

  1. The Governor Lied!!! said at 11:38 am on July 11th, 2015:

    Hey Declan,

    I know you read these comments, and perhaps you should respond accordingly.

    The governor lied to the public unions by stating verbally–and in law–that he would put more money into the pension system if the state workers contribute more towards their pension and health benefits.

    You know what? They did! The governor reneged, and you and the other Republican legislators said nothing!

    Those workers should be given every penny they contributed into the plan.

    Besides, where has your voice been with our governor being out of the state half the time and receiving a full time salary? Now that’s what I call a no-show government job.

    Declan, time to step up and say something–otherwise, I will remember in November!


  2. Joe Hadden said at 2:00 pm on July 11th, 2015:

    Funny, Declan O’Scanlon put his name on this statement. Governor Chris Christie put his name on the legislation he signed. “The Governor Lied” doesn’t even put his name on his comments.

    You lecture elected officials on their lack of responsibility and credibility without taking responsibility for something as small as a post to a blog?

    I’ve seen Declan O’Scanlon discuss this subject while being shouted at by angry state employees and he stood his ground without resorting to demagoguery or scapegoating. I’ve also seen the Governor tackle this subject (and many others) with people who don’t support him.

    I thought Declan’s comments were spot on and a great vantage point for moving forward on this very important issue.

  3. The Governor put his name on legislation... said at 3:28 pm on July 11th, 2015:

    Joe, yes the governor put his name on legislation when the pension reform bill was signed–but he didn’t honor his own bill! To this day he refuses to place the agreed upon monies in the pension system. He lied, he broke the law….doesn’t that bother you just a bit???

  4. No More RINOS said at 10:23 pm on July 11th, 2015:

    I don’t pay attention to anything he says. Declan O’Scanlon is a RINO. I voted against him in the 2013 GOP primary, and against his RINO comrades Amy Handlin, Joe Kyrillos, and the rest of the RINO ticket including Chris Christie. Unfortunately, the Tea Party ticket that year led by Republicans For Conservative Leadership lost, but things will be different in 2017 when Mike Doherty leads a Tea Party ticket in the GOP primary that will rid New Jersey from the likes of O’Scanlon and his RINO pals.

  5. Mike Harmon said at 10:37 am on July 12th, 2015:

    By the way I think O’Scanlon is the sharpest guy when it comes to government finances. He understands the “structural deficit”.

    Yet Declan lays out a caveat or straw man (depending on how you view it) “Our teachers and other public workers are decent, devoted, professional people”

    I generally do not disagree with that statement. But I think we all know lots of government workers who should have been fired and/or or not given their mandatory raises.

    With 550,000 public sector employees there are just too many of them at every level including the state, county, town and various authority levels.

    Whether it is Microsoft, IBM, HP or the oil industry layoffs that just hit 100,000 there is only one real way to solve this problem permanently. Reduce headcounts permanently.

    A reduction over two years of 50,000 public sector employees @ an average of $50,000 salary and benefit package will save $2.5 billion in a year and every year to follow.

    If MoreMonmouthMusing was a government entity it would take 5-10 people to run it.

    There are other measures which are small ball like hiring freezes, wage growth restrictions, pay freezes and attrition reductions but NJ is in crisis. We need more efficiency and less government friction.

    Their inability to even do basic math will drive the democrats to use more sleight of hand tricks like “exit taxes” and proportional taxing for all those folks that live 6 months and 1 day elsewhere.

    We are Puerto Rico without the ability to file Title 9. We are Detroit without the ability to go bankrupt.

    We are Greece without the ability to print more fake money – to drive up inflation and to drive down the real cost value of money to pay the fixed pensions. But don’t worry folks, Obama is working at that inflation thing.

  6. @Mike Harmon said at 2:32 pm on July 12th, 2015:

    Let’s not get clear the Republicans so fast. Under Christie’s leadership, the Port Authority set an unprecedented 5 years of-built in toll increases.” Was this to cover all his patronage appointments, including CC’s High school buddy, David Wildstein, at a six figure salary? Lets not forget, CC just recently appointed another old friend to a made up job at NJ Transit—Mike Drewniak, also at a six figure salary.

    Waste indeed, right Mike? However, Declan O’ Scanlon said NOTHING!!!

    I am one of those commuters that live in his district– also a registered Republican for over 40 years–that will not vote for this clown.

    His issues of red light enforcement is ridiculous! I want something of substance!

  7. Mike Harmon said at 4:40 pm on July 12th, 2015:

    Not clearing the Rs at all or making excuses for them. Yet I recognize they are in a tough outnumbered position and if a job is going to be had with government, I think Rs are preferable (every time).

    I have talked to Assemblyman O’Scanlon and also follow his comments about the budget and pension in the media. He knows his stuff. To me, referring to this decent and very intelligent guy as a “clown” is not helpful. I am not telling you how to vote.

    Any way all this stuff about overtime, merging authorities, high school buddies, six figure salaries etc is using a scalpel when we need a big fn hatchet.

    We need an R & D together to take a hatchet and maybe a chainsaw to our bloated public budget now before we are forced to it (like Detroit, Greece and Puerto Rico).

    Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. 50,000 headcount reduction at $50,000 salary and benefit package = $2.5 billion per year – every year. 1 out of every 11 public employees out of the gov wagon and helping us all pull it.

    Want to fix this “structural deficit”. Don’t ask the walking brain dead.

    Ask the survivors who had to layoff staff and came back stronger : Merck, Pfizer, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, US Steel, HP, Google, JP Morgan, AIG, Ford, Verizon etc….

    Headcount reduction is really the only way.

  8. No More RINOs said at 9:19 pm on July 12th, 2015:

    A RINO by any other name is still a RINO. O’Scanlon loves big government whenever it benefits his RINO masters like Chris Christie and Joe Kyrillos. That’s why he is deaf, dumb, and blind to all the RINO shenanigans at the Port Authority and Turnpike Authority. If Chris Christie gets flushed down the toilet in New Hampshire, O’Scanlon will follow the lead of his RINO boss Joe Kyrillos and embrace The Ultimate RINO Jeb Bush for President.

  9. To Mike Harmon said at 10:06 pm on July 12th, 2015:

    Declan is part of the problem–not the solution. He has NOT said a damn word about the governor’s placement of friends–unqualified friends–in the Port Authority.

    Declan has not said a word about the toll increases (5 years of toll increases) on the Hudson River Crossings

    I hold him accountable!!! No Toll increases, no problem, NO DECLAN!!!

    We need a voice for the taxpayers of Declan’s district–not a voice for the governor and his pals!!!

  10. Mike is right said at 9:50 am on July 13th, 2015:

    as to there are simply way too many government employees: so many small towns have too many clerks, cops, and too many bloated business administrators/ CFO’s, who get not only large salaries from combined titles, but there are many towns that refuse to cap the unused sick/ vaca times, resulting in huge bonds being floated, along with the ensuing tax increases, to pay these outrageous retirements: with this exploding county,and so many towns crippled by property tax increases for the schools, add to that,way too many families having someone working in Boro/ township hall-(this gets votes,too, remember,) it is no wonder it is getting impossible to stay in this county/ state- there are some 1,900 separate entities of government, I believe,in NJ: every little board and authority that has a payroll equals a lot of public payouts, it’s the truth.. But again, when your kid can’t get a job, and you beg your mayor or council person or assembly person to get them in at town hall or some state office, you are, frankly,contributing to this problem.. It is disingenuous, however, of all the electeds, to pretend concern, when they know full well, government workers and their families, mean a hell of a lot of votes as a block, at any level.. So, it all continues: like Greece, those benefitting will always fight any austerity measures, while the few left paying, will continue to cry in the dark..

  11. @Mike is right said at 11:02 am on July 13th, 2015:

    Funny you don’t blame the governor for getting in more unqualified people in the Port Authority than any governor in the history of this state.

    Furthermore, he recently got another unqualified crony into a government job–Michael Drewniak–his former spokesman, a job that was made up in NJ Transit.

  12. @@ Mike, said at 8:32 pm on July 13th, 2015:

    Wasn’t addressing Christie, don’t get me started on him: suffice it to say,IMHO, thanks to him, we will never see another Rep. governor in our lifetimes: he is likely the most self- serving, arrogant gov. we’ve had in NJ in over 50 years- and, considering what we’ve endured with the likes of McGreevey, Florio, Corzine, that’s really saying something: having been at the 2012 GOP convention, where the gov’s button was the most coveted among the delegates, how far our dear boy has fallen, only to continue to bilk us out of travel monies, in search of his personal impossible dream! Ugh! Follow me now?

  13. Steve Adams said at 11:00 pm on July 13th, 2015:

    Declan is right about the need to fix the pension bomb that looms in the future. NJ has never missed a pension payment to a retired government worker. A lot of the union leadership inspired dicontent is really based on political objectives, not fixing the problem. When the problem is addressed, it would be good to have domeone like Declan in the room that understands the consequences of stupid public policy. Commitments should and will be honored, but there is no reason the taxpayers should continue to promise crazy pension benefits to public employees. These are not necessary to recruit employees. Private oragnizations have switched to 401k type plans for a good reason. Taxpayers should insist on this. Retirement benefits are a big part of the reason it costs about $130 per hour that a teacher is teaching in a public school. Is there a reason every teacher costs that much when great people would gladly do the work for half as much taxpayer money?