President's Message

Another Round of Broken Pension Promises

From the day Gov. Christie took office and broke his promise to police and firefighters that he would never reduce benefits for active or retired officers, we have been engaged in a never-ending effort to stop the revisionist history of blaming employees for the unfunded liability in the pension system.

The facts are clear that state and local governments went nearly a decade without making a full contribution into the State Pension System and nearly three full years passed without a penny of employer contributions being made. Unfunded liabilities exploded and, combined with a failing economy and pension investments, what was once an overfunded pension system soon became, in the governor’s words, “unsustainable.”

But sometimes the facts don’t get in the way of good politics, and the governor's mastery of storytelling has rewritten the state’s pension history. So when the pension and health benefit reform law was signed in 2011 and the champagne corks were popped in some circles around the state that public employees were finally put in their place, we were told to be thankful that our pensions were finally "saved," and that the increased employee contributions would only help restore fiscal soundness to the pension fund.Retired cops in their 70s, 80s and 90s who have small pensions and needed a COLA to survive, were told by the governor and others that these reforms were leading to a day around the corner when COLA would be given back to them. Active officers who saw their pension contributions jump to 10 percent and their healthcare contributions increase to as much as 33 percent of an uncontrollable premium were told their increased payments were needed to pay off the unfunded liability in THEIR pension system.

So after three years and two rounds of pension cuts, New Jersey law enforcement officers started making increased payments. But as with everything else that has been said about pension reform in New Jersey, the demand that increased employee payments were required immediately to “save their pensions” was a half truth designed to mislead the public. On Oct. 16, 2013, the governor announced that because of the pension changes, local governments could skip making another $116 million in payments to the pension system. That was on top of $267 million in “savings” the law yielded after its passage. So in the end, the same local governments that skipped billions in pension payments that created the unfunded liability in the pension system that became “unsustainable” are now being rewarded with $383 million in cuts to their current pension obligations.

Now let's be clear. I don't oppose using lower pension liabilities to lessen the impact on property tax payers. The governor and his allies have done their best to make this an us-versus-them debate. But I am a taxpayer, too. A solvent pension system is what I was promised and I am ready to pay my fair share because it matters a lot more to me than to the average citizen whether my pension is around for my retirement. But this kickback to local government reeks of hypocrisy and it rewards the same politicians who created the crisis in the first place.

Look at it as you would your mortgage and were behind on your payments and the interest was piling on. If you suddenly received a big cash payment wouldn’t you want to pay down your debt on the house or would you use that money to buy something unrelated?  I would like to think you would pay off your house debt to make sure you don't lose it.

That is the point the state is missing here. They have demanded that our senior citizen retirees lose their COLA on their pension, have increased our contribution rate to the highest in the state at 10 percent and have made structural changes to lower their costs. Wouldn't it make more sense financially and out of fundamental honesty to then take those “savings” and use them to pay down more of the unfunded liability faster? Wasn’t the point of all these changes to lower “unsustainable” pension liability so that employee pensions would be secured for the future?

Any cop will tell you that all they are looking for when they are working is honesty. In this case, we are all wondering where the honesty is in using reduced pension costs to reward state and local government failure to fund their past obligations. Where is the honesty for an older retired officer who was promised these savings would bring his COLA back quickly but then told by the State that COLA won’t be restored until 2026? Where is the honesty for a cop who is now paying $20,000 more for pension and health benefit costs only to see health care premiums continue to rise, politically connected health care brokers continue to get rich and additional pension contributions go to a government that nearly bankrupted his retirement rather than toward paying down pension debt as we were told had to be done immediately?

When cops are made out to be the enemy of the people to advance a political agenda, we can see it for what it is. But when we are called on to bail out the government for their abuses that caused record losses in our pension and then watch that money leave the pension system we can’t help but feel disgust and disappointment we didn’t think possible after the past three years.

Greetings from Pat Colligan, NJSPBA President

Upon the planned retirement of Tony Wieners, I became President of the NJ State PBA officially on July 1st.  It is a tremendous honor and one that I am prepared to give my passionate dedication to the organization as a whole and my commitment to each of you that the protection of our rights, benefits and pensions will be my foremost obligation.  One of my first official actions as State President was appointing Bro. Marc Kovar, Passaic PBA Local #14 to be Executive Vice President.  Marc’s devotion to the State PBA is evident in everything he does.  He is a great friend to me and there is no more committed fighter for the members of the State PBA.

We are fortunate that State PBA President Wieners has built the most professional, dedicated and prepared labor organization in New Jersey over the past 7 years so that this transition will occur without delays.  Labor relations, collective bargaining, legal protection, retirement planning, government relations and all member services will continue to operate as smoothly as it does today.  It is my goal therefore not only to preserve these successful member benefits but to build on the foundation that I am inheriting.

But maintaining the operations of the State PBA is only part of the duties of President.  Make no mistake, our benefits remain under attack by unscrupulous politicians who seek to manipulate your careers for their own political agenda.  We need to act as a solid wall to prevent them from further eroding our pensions and from chipping away any more of the fairness that once existed at the bargaining table.  If we are truly working as one cohesive and focused group we can change the political plague that has taken over the State.  But if we splinter, even in small areas, then all of our work will fall apart.  If we bicker publicly and stand at the side of candidates who campaign to destroy your jobs and your retirement then that just makes it easier for them to win.  We must not allow that to happen.

We have no choice but to improve and enhance what we do and how we do it, not only in Woodbridge but with all of you all over New Jersey.  We are the most respected law enforcement organization in New Jersey and we will remain so with your help.

You have our commitment. Marc and I need yours.

On a recent Friday afternoon, I shut off the lights in my office and headed home for the weekend. I had been the Pension Coordinator for almost a year. It was a great opportunity to help our members with the next daunting step in their careers. The position was personally rewarding and an amazing learning experience. I am still grateful for the opportunity that Tony and Keith gave me one year ago. But on the very next Sunday afternoon, I received the news that you all know by now and that took me completely by surprise; effective July 1, 2014, I would be the next President of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Tony and Keith for seven years of incredibly dedicated service to our organization. When you hear the phrase “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” it personifies their work here on our behalf. Whether you agreed or disagreed with how they did it, they did it with a passion and dedication that will be hard to duplicate. Nothing has come easy to any labor organization these past five years, but they never once gave up or felt that they weren’t doing the right thing for every single one of you. I have had the privilege to work closely with them during the years, and they are two men who can look proudly in the mirror every day and know they gave their very best. I was proud to work with them and serve on their Executive Board. I am truly honored that they gave me the opportunity to lead this organization into the next phase. I am even prouder to call them my friends.

Our great friend in labor, past FMBA President Bill Lavin proudly proclaimed on more than one occasion: “We don’t owe an apology to anybody for what we make.” I believe in that phrase so much that I hope one day it will be attributed to me! With few exceptions, we were here before our Local, County and State officials were elected and we will be here long after they are gone. Sometimes we benefit from the decisions they make, but more often than not we are left reeling in their wake wondering what the hell they were thinking. Despite the good or the bad, we continue to provide safety and outstanding service to the residents of this state. Our profession has come a long way in the past 30 or 40 years. We are more professional, better trained and much better educated. We are saddled with regulations, mandates and guidelines that were unheard of a few decades ago. We are doing much more with much less and many of us with a lot less people to do it. The last time I looked we are still doing it on weekends, holidays, midnights, anniversaries and birthdays. Sadly, in the past four-anda- half years we have been doing it with a knife at our throats not knowing what's next.  Sick time? Benefits? Hybrid Pensions? I hear all of you every single day and at every single seminar I presented during the past year. The day I need to apologize for a competitive salary, comprehensive benefits or a sound pension is the day that I will resign from this presidency. An apology for defending you and what you earn every day on every shift will never come out of my mouth.

I chose Marc Kovar as my Executive Vice President. Marc is one of the most passionate union members I have ever met. He is fiercely loyal to the PBA and has served the residents in the City of Passaic for more than 20 years. Until his appointment, he was chairman of our Collective Bargaining Committee. His involvement with the Collective Bargaining Committee has given him the unique perspective of where the attacks are coming from and how to fight back. He has a great business sense and will be a great asset to our organization. He has been involved in many other committees and sits on the National Board of NAPO (National Association of Police Organizations).

Marc and I hit the track before the starting gate opened on July 1. With Rob Nixon, we developed a comprehensive Political Action Plan that we are already diving into. Appointments with Senate and Assembly leadership and union leaders from public sector labor organizations are already on our calendars. We are adding to the list every single day. Our immediate goal is to meet every single state legislator during the next six months. They will know our names, they will know our faces and they will even be left with our cell phone numbers.  Whether they give us 10 minutes or two hours, they will know the frustration you all feel and exactly what has been taken from us all.

You all deservedly have great expectations in your new leadership, and Marc and I accept the tremendous challenges before us. Marc and I also have great expectations of you. After these past four-and-a-half years of attacks, I'm not quite sure what will get you all angry enough to get up and take some action on your own behalf. When you are on the street or in the cell block you take swift, decisive action when someone tries to attack you and you immediately subdue the threat. Most of you can get that all wrapped up before you even get a hand laid on you. There is a massive assault on our pension system and only one out of five of you took the 15 seconds to vote for your own PFRS Pension Trustee in the election this past April/May! We got you all registered to vote, now we NEED you to vote. Marc and I have to head to Trenton with a big stick. I feel like we are the sheep heading to the slaughterhouse and all we are doing is complaining about the long, sweaty line to get our throats slit! We could use some backup here and I sure hope you are all finally fed up enough to fight back with us. We sure can't do it alone. And so begins a new chapter in the New Jersey State PBA. We are still in the midst of what may be the most vicious, sustained assault on our rights, benefits and wages since our inception in 1896. It certainly would have been easier to pass and wait for a better time, but I believe we can make a difference and turn the tide in our favor. So the next time I hear "what is the PBA doing," my answer will be that we are doing more and we are doing it better than any other labor group in the State.

You have our commitment. Marc and I need yours.

"Pension Study Commission"
- Cheat Sheet

Executive Order No. 161 was hand delivered by the governor Aug. 1 on the steps of the Parsippany Municipal building at 1 p.m. In effect, it officially forms the non-partisan “New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission,” hereinafter known as the “Study Commission.”

Thirty days after organizing, the commission is required to deliver a status report and will issue a report on its findings and recommendations "as soon as possible."  It is now Friday afternoon at 2:47 p.m. at the State PBA Office in Woodbridge. The office will observe our summer hours and be closing in 13 minutes. I have just officially commissioned myself (with 13 minutes to go) to issue my own findings and recommendations. If the "Study Commission" wants a cheat sheet, here it is:

1. Chapter 78 (a law as defined by the Constitution) was signed on June 11, 2008 by Gov. Christie requiring in very specific terms how he must fund the pension.

FINDINGS: Please advise Gov. Christie to comply with the law that he signed.

2. Chapter 78 required an additional 1½-percent contribution of PFRS employees to the system for a total of 10-percent employee contributions (probably the highest in the nation). It generated another $57 million. In March, the governor gave more than $50 million back to local governments and called it “tax relief”.

FINDINGS: That’s our money. We earned it and it was deducted from our paychecks. Please put it back into the PFRS system.

3. Want to explore a “Hybrid Pension System?” Similar to a 401K, “Hybrid Pensions" have to be paid by the state with each and every paycheck.

FINDINGS:  The state doesn't pay its pension bills now with a signed law in place! Who do we call when the Hybrid payments aren't made every two weeks? Can I tell my members that at least I got a pinkie swear?

4. New Jersey now ranks second in the country for investments in high-risk, highfee hedge funds in their state pension funds. Well-known political donors and high priced "investment advisors" are raking in $1.2 billion in fees and commissions.

FINDINGS: $1.2 billion performs better in our portfolio than in a millionaire’s bank account and those high- risk hedge funds are returning lower yields than traditional investments that don't pad donor’s pockets.

5. In 2005, Acting Governor Richard Codey formed a Benefits Review Task Force to try and resolve the unfunded pension issues. The task force subsequently released a comprehensive document called the Murphy Report. Anybody care to guess what was suggestion No. 1? For the state to start “paying up and ending the gimmicks.” That Murphy strikes me as a pretty smart guy.

FINDINGS: The "Study Commission" should find that Murphy Report, photocopy it and call it the “2014 New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission.” Your work was done already in 2005. No need to reinvent the wheel folks.

6. Last month, the governor's office released a "No Pain, No Gain" movie trailer that shamefully mocked every hard-working public employee in the state (the ones that have made every single payment into the pension). That movie trailer wasn't cobbled together in a few minutes on a laptop. It took a lot of time and state resources.

FINDINGS: Somebody has too much free time and lots of extra money in their budget. Immediately transfer them to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The last time I looked at the governor's performance numbers, I think those two departments could definitely use the help. The new "Study Commission" could probably use their creativity too.

7. The public pensions throughout the country that are performing the best are truly run by their membership. Investments are made by a committee with their skin in the game. ALL their skin! New Jersey has an Investment Council with very little influence on how and where our investments are made. The director is appointed by the treasurer; the treasurer is nominated by the governor.

FINDINGS: Legislate a change to our Investment Council and give it some teeth. Let US decide who gets OUR money and what kind of risk and fees we want to pay. It should not be in the hands of a person politically connected to a sitting governor - ANY sitting Governor.  The time is now 3:08 p.m. I am now disbanding my commission after 21 minutes of work resolving the New Jersey pension crisis. I really wish I could say that this is in jest and an exaggeration, but unfortunately and sadly it isn't. The work and the research really have been done already. All the answers are well known to everybody. My job right now is to make sure that whoever is sitting at this desk a decade from now will not be dealing with yet another "new" commission from another governor that has to deal with an unfunded pension.  Fool us all Mr. Governor; make a quarterly payment and show us some good faith. Some politicians just break promises. Not making these payments is breaking the law.

Summer of 2014

When Nat King Cole wrote that song he certainly got the last part right. Summer is traditionally a relatively quiet time at the NJ State PBA office. Unfortunately, the summer of 2014 didn't really cooperate. Tragically, we lost two of New Jersey's finest: Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was murdered in his police car on July 13 by an animal who wanted to be famous. A few short days later we lost Waldwick Police Officer Christopher Goodell during the performance of his duties while most of the residents of Waldwick slept safely and comfortably in their homes. We also had a host of very serious crashes involving police officers all across the state. I wish them all a fast and healthy recovery.

The dirt on Santiago and Goodell's graves hadn’t even settled when we were graced with the governor's “No Pain, No Gain" disgraceful tour of self-promotion. “Part 1” was on the very afternoon we buried Officer Goodell. I guess “No Pain, No Gain” is a lot catchier than “I Don’t Have a Damn Plan, I Want The System To Fail and I’ll Add This To My Long List Of Things I've Screwed Up” Tour.  The 2014 “No Pain, No Gain” tour can best be described as a cross between the old "Where's the Beef?” commercials from Wendy's and the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. A whole lot of nothing replayed throughout the state over and over and over and over and over again……all summer long.

And now we have the gift called “The Commission.” We all know the details by now; a completely independent group of non-partisan individuals tasked by our governor to solve all of our pension woes. Yawn. Does anybody think they should probably have included a few people actually IN the system? Should I sit in my office waiting for their call so they can hear our ideas? I just hope it will cost less than the $9 million (and still climbing) “completely independent” Bridgegate investigation our governor ordered from his old friends at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Call me a cynic, but I suspect the results will have a familiar ring to them. No crystal ball will be needed for those results!

And finally, as promised Rob Nixon, Marc and I have been traversing the state, meeting and greeting our legislators - Senate and Assembly, Republican and Democrat. Every one of these meetings has been very positive. We will discuss them at length at the convention. We have been to some Local meetings and a few County Conference meetings. We’ve met with the leadership from many other public unions and we had an extensive meeting with the leadership of the NJ Police Chief's Association.

We said we were going to hit the ground running, and we certainly have. During the past two months I've seen parts of the state that I never saw before.  We still have a lot on our schedule for the next few months and we are looking forward to many more meetings with our legislators.   I'm expecting Trenton to throw us a few surprises and we are looking forward to the challenge. Please be safe and buckle up; we've had way too many close calls this summer!

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