Mary Ellen Rathbun – Board Secretary
Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund
Division of Pensions and Benefits
50 West State Street
PO Box 295
Trenton, NJ 08625-0295
Dear Ms. Rathbun,
In 2009, Chris Christie wrote an “Open Letter to the Teachers of New Jersey” in which he refuted NJEA’s warnings that if elected governor, he would worsen New Jersey’s pension crisis. In this letter, which we now know is full of blatant lies constructed solely to gain the trust and votes of New Jersey’s teachers, Christie said the following:
- The claim that any harm would come to your pension should I be elected Governor is absolutely untrue. It is a 100% lie. Your pension will be protected when I am elected Governor.
- Just so I am clear, what [the unions] are saying about my intentions to hurt pensions or lay off teachers is absolutely, 100% untrue.
- I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor.
In 2011, however, Christie made sweeping changes to pension laws that forced public workers all over the state to increase their pension contributions and pay more toward their health benefits. As a result, many public workers have seen steady decreases in their take-home pay—but they were promised that in return for their increased contributions, the state would do its part to ensure the fidelity and long-term health of the pension fund. According to P.L. 2011 Chapter 78:
“State and all other applicable employers shall make their annual normal contribution to each system or fund…. The State and all other applicable employers shall also make their annual unfunded accrued liability contribution to each system or fund…. The annual normal contribution plus the annual unfunded accrued liability contribution shall together be the annual required contribution.”
But instead of holding up his end of the bargain—the very bargain that he himself created and touted as a bipartisan effort to fix the state’s pension crisis—Christie has announced that he will disregard Chapter 78 and greatly reduce the State’s scheduled payments to the fund in an effort to address the State’s $2.7 billion budgetary shortfall. Christie has repeatedly blamed public worker pensions for New Jersey’s financial woes, yet in clear violation of New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws, he has been shipping those same pension funds to the financial firms whose campaign contributions helped him get elected. This, of course, is an example of political corruption at its worst–and an added insult to the hard-working public-sector employees who have no choice but to make the pension payments that are required by law.
Because of Governor Christie’s reckless and self-serving economic policies, New Jersey now has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation, unemployment numbers that remain above the national average, and an increasing number of families facing foreclosures. Taking money away from public workers who have made every pension payment required of them will exacerbate these problems, further cripple New Jersey’s middle class, and worsen to the state’s economic woes. (Ironically, Christie complained that the agencies who lowered New Jersey’s credit rating “downgrade people who continue to act responsibly”–yet Christie is unapologetic that his illegal actions punish the only people who consistently–“responsibly”–contribute to TPAF: teachers.)
Perhaps most despicable is that the governor has garnered support for his illegal acts by attacking the integrity, work ethic, dedication, and motives of public workers in the state. It should be clear to anyone who’s paying attention that Chris Christie’s broken promises have little to do with the state of the pension fund itself—and more to do with advancing a political agenda that favors the 1%. (His repeated refusal to institute a millionaires tax is evidence of as much.) Christie is intent on dismantling the middle class and disparaging public sector workers, who instead should be respected for their overwhelming contributions to the State of New Jersey.
Just as Christie was ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court to restore funding the urban school districts from which he withheld over a billion dollars, he must be ordered to make the pension payments that are required by law. As you know, the TPAF Board of Trustees is authorized to take legal action to ensure that teachers’ “contractual rights” are upheld—so to that end, please file suit to protect teachers’ rights and to address Chris Christie’s clear violation of the law. Otherwise, the governor’s irresponsibility and political agenda will continue to starve the fund to which New Jersey’s public school teachers have dutifully contributed their entire careers.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
English Teacher, Delran High School (Burlington County)
Member, New Jersey Education Association