Monthly Archives: June 2015

Chris Christie the Glutton

Merriam-Webster defines gluttony as “excess in eating or drinking and “greedy or excessive indulgence.

And today, Chris Christie had the nerve to accuse New Jersey’s pubic school teachers of being gluttons:

Railing against teachers, [Governor Christie] claimed the average 30-year teacher contributes just $195,000 of the $2.6 million in pension and health benefits they receive over their lifetime.

Christie said Friday he’ll make the largest payment the state can afford, but he won’t burden taxpayers with the cost of maintaining “a broken system.”

“The taxpayers of New Jersey are not, as long as I’m here, going to be the ones that shoulder the blame for their gluttony…,” he said.

First of all, governor, the taxpayers of New Jersey don’t “shoulder the blame” for the state’s broken pension system: you and your predecessors do. No: New Jersey’s taxpayers are victims of your reckless financial decisions and ill-advised economic policies–all of which favor the 1%–and all of which have caused the state’s economy to tank.

But if you really want to talk about gluttony, and if you seriously think teachers are guilty of “greedy or excessive indulgence,” I have a few real examples of gluttony for you. Any sound familiar?

  • Spending $82,594 taxpayer dollars on food and alcohol at Jets and Giants games is an example of gluttony.
  • $100,000+ trip to the Cowboys/Lions game is an example of gluttony.
  • Taking Sheldon Adelson’s private jet, on which you had your “own bedroom,” on your “trade mission” to Israel is an example of gluttony.
  • The $30,000 hotel-room bill King Abdullah paid so you and your family could attend parties and champagne receptions is an example of gluttony.
  • Your repeated demands for “private jets, lavish spreads of food, [and] space for a massive entourage” are examples of gluttony.
  • That you fly private jets often enough to have a preference for “Cessna Citation X flights” is an example of gluttony.
  • Tak[ing] over conference rooms laid out with elaborate spreads of food at all hours” is an example of gluttony.
  • Your $40,000 “three-day tour” of the UK is an example of gluttony.
  • Your State Police helicopter ride to your son’s high school baseball game is an example of gluttony.
  • Your trip to the 2013 Super Bowl, which cost taxpayers nearly $11,000, is an example of gluttony.
  • The excessive expenses you racked up–with “insufficient, inaccurate or no justification”–as the US attorney who most often exceeded the government travel expense rate are examples of gluttony.
  • Your $236 four-mile car-service ride to the airport is an example of gluttony.

I know I’m missing a few (dozen). And I don’t even have time to get into the gluttonous relationships you have with your Wall Street and corporate friends.

I don’t care who paid for your lavish trips or if they were privately funded, and I don’t care that other politicians (famous people, rich people, etc.) enjoy similar gluttonous experiences to the ones I listed above. Good for them, and good for you for having so much money (what’s that? you say you’re not rich?), and good for you for having such rich friends. Congratulations. Really. Glutton it up.

But how dare you accuse public school teachers of being greedy when the amount of taxpayer money you spent on food and alcohol at sporting events exceeds what most teachers make in a year.

If that’s not the literal definition of gluttony, I don’t know what is.

How disgustingly despicable.

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“How To Destroy The Public Sector in Ten Easy Steps”–a Chris Christie handbook

Congrats, Chris Christie, on your win in court today!

You must be thrilled that the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the law you yourself signed–you know, the one you called “a model for America“–cannot be enforced.

No, wait–only the part of the law that requires the *state* to make its pension payments can’t be enforced. The public workers who have been contributing hundreds more per paycheck to their pensions and benefits still have to continue their increased contributions, as per the law. Is that right?

I’m only asking for clarification because I know you’re an expert in legal proceedings. You are, after all, a former US Attorney for NJ who holds a J.D. for Seton Hall. (I almost wonder whether declaring that the part of your own law which requires the state to contribute is unconstitutional–and all the while requiring public workers with modest salaries to take what amounts to pay cuts because of the increased contributions your law requires–was part of your grand plan all along. But that’s none of my business!)

Anyway, I’m sure this ruling will have your fans clapping loudly–because many of them think public workers don’t deserve their deferred compensation a pension, even though those workers have always contributed to the fund. (Wait, you haven’t told your fans that teachers have put $10 billion into the pension fund in the past 20 years? That they never had the option to not contribute to the pension fund? That they’re undercompensated compared to their private-sector counterparts? Sorry for letting the cat out of the bag.)

I’m also sure that you’ll spin this decision as a *huge* win for taxpayers. (Shhhh…don’t tell anyone that the hundreds of thousands of workers this ruling affects are–gasp–taxpayers; or that a Federal Reserve Board Chairman just criticized your fiscal strategies, including shirking pension payments; or that NJ might be subjected to yet another credit downgrade, as if the record 9 downgrades weren’t enough; or that you’ve spent $1.5 billion dollars in Wall Street fees, dished out $5 billion in corporate subsidies, rewarded your political donors with control of the pension system, and snuggled up to ExxonMobil by letting them off the hook for billions of dollars; or that New Jersey’s poverty rate keeps going up; or that you lost the receipts–whoops–for a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer-funded expenses. It’s middle-class public workers who are crippling taxpayers!)

Yes, you’re certainly making a name for yourself–and that’s despite all the incompetent/vindictive/reckless people and advisers you have around you! So impressive! You didn’t know how bad the pension situation was when you wrote that letter to teachers, police officers, and firefighters in 2009 saying that nothing about their pensions would change if you were elected governor. You didn’t know (hand over heart) that you staffers were shutting down a bridge as political payback! (Is it too soon to make a “who’ll-be-in-your-cabinet-and-how-will-they-secretly-betray-you-without-your-knowledge” joke? Too soon?) You–an attorney–didn’t know that parts of your own “model for America” law were unconstitutional!

We all know you have presidential aspirations and that you’re really busy traveling around and figuring out whether you should throw your baseball cap into the ring, so I’ll save you some time and get started on the “How To Destroy The Public Sector in Ten Easy Steps” handbook that I’m sure you’d love to distribute far and wide. I’ll start with teachers.

  1. Pretend you like public workers (lol!) and make promises to them that you won’t even *think* about keeping. (Don’t worry, it’s just until they vote you into office.)
  2. Once you get elected, appoint a bunch of NJ Supreme Court Justices who share your political views. (This’ll be important in #8!)
  3. Convince everyone that teachers suck, perhaps by likening them to drug dealers who are greedy and self-interested and who don’t care about their students. Also, make teachers’ jobs immeasurably more difficult by refusing to fund urban schools according to the SRFA–and then call schools with high populations of minority, ELL, special needs, and impoverished students “failure factories.” Or you could even say the K-12 education system is as much of a threat as ISIS!!
  4. When everyone jumps on the “Yeah! Teachers Suck!” bandwagon, convince them that public workers’ “benefits are too rich” and that they “aren’t contributing enough” to their pensions and benefits. Note to self: pay people to try to get that report about NJ being 95th out of 100th in pension generosity taken down from the internet.
  5. Implement education “reforms” like Common Core, PARCC, AchieveNJ, and TeachNJ, all of which are untested, fundamentally flawed, and designed to depersonalize, standardized, deprofessionalize, and privatize schools. (Continue sending your own children to private schools that don’t have to adhere to these “reforms.”)
  6. Watch veteran teachers start to flee the profession because they don’t want to teach to a test by reading from a script. Replace them with new (read, cheap!) teachers who will never know the academic freedom or professional judgment their veteran counterparts once enjoyed.
  7. At the same time, create and sign a law that requires teachers and other public workers to pay hundreds more toward their pensions and benefits, and promise that the state will make up its missed contributions by increasing its contributions over seven years and then continuing to fund the system thereafter.
  8. Yell “Just kidding!” and ignore the part of your law that requires you to fund the pension system.
  9. Appeal to the Supreme Court that’s mostly comprised of people you appointed when a lower-court judge tells you to make the payments that are required by the law you signed. (I know there are members of the legislature who have some kind of moral compass, but I’m not sure if there are enough to ensure the state does its part. We’ll find out, I guess.)
  10. Celebrate!

Yes, congratulations, indeed. Congratulations on perpetuating the vilification of public employees. Congratulations on perpetuating the idea that corporations and millionaires deserve political favors and tax breaks, but already-strapped middle-class workers are the greedy ones. Congratulations on perpetuating the idea that cheap labor is the way to go–and that years of service, and the knowledge and expertise that come with them, are worthless. And, ultimately, congratulations on a win in your most recent attempt to completely destroy the public sector. What a noble, admirable goal it is.

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A closer look at @GovChristie’s failure to #FundNJPension

It’s no secret that New Jersey’s pension system is a disaster. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, the Garden State–from 2001-2013–had the worst record in the nation of funding its pension system, making only 38% of its annual required contributions. And now, according to Governor Christie (and despite his 2011 reforms), New Jersey still can’t afford to meet its pension responsibilities.

Certainly, Christie is not solely responsible for this mess; his predecessors are also guilty of pension offenses. Christie likes to brag that he has made the largest-ever contribution to the pension fund, but what he fails to mention is that he has skipped out on a whopping $14.9 billion in payments–$2 billion more than the five governors who came before him missed collectively. (And, moreover, Christie was the only governor to break the law in failing to fund the system.)

Here’s some more of what Chris Christie doesn’t like to tell people about his pension failures. (Keep in mind, again, that Christie claims New Jersey “doesn’t have the money” make the pension payments required by the law that he himself signed in 2011; more on that below.)

  • New Jersey’s teachers have always contributed to their pensions and have paid more than $10 billion into the fund over the past 20 years–but by the end of this fiscal year, the state will have only contributed $3 billion to the fund since 1996. None of the state’s teachers has ever missed a pension payment, because they have never been allowed–or had the option–to do so.
  • In 2009, Christie wrote an “Open Letter to the Teachers of New Jersey” (and wrote nearly identical letters to NJ police and firefighters) to make this claim: “I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor.”
  • Two years later, Christie signed into law Chapter 78, P.L. 2011, which required public workers in the state’s pension systems to contribute significantly more to their pensions and health benefits; further, new language in the law required the state to phase in a full contribution at a rate of 1/7 per year from 2012 to 2018–and continue to fund the pension system fully each year after that. Chapter 78 also states that members of the pension funds have a contractual right to the annual required contribution.
  • In violation of his own law, Christie shorted the pension system by $2.43 billion in 2014 and is now proposing more changes that would further reduce benefits for public workers–claiming that the state cannot afford to make the legally-required payments.
  • Christie has invested NJ’s pension funds in “high-risk, high-fee investments,” which according to pension consultant Chris Tobe cost the system $2.5 billion in unrealized returns.
  • From 2010-2014, New Jersey has spent more than $1.5 billion on fees to Wall Street firms, many of which are headed by Christie campaign donors.
  • New Jersey continued to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Angelo, Gordon, & Co.–the Wall Street firm that hired Mary Pat Christie, the governor’s wife, as a managing director–for three years after Christie announced he would divest in the firm.
  • In February, Christie settled an $8.9 billion lawsuit against ExxonMobil for just $225 million, and shortly after it was revealed that Christopher Porrino, the governor’s chief counsel for the case, “owned shares of a mutual fund [of which ExxonMobil was the largest holding] valued at more than $100,000.”
  • Christie has awarded approximately $5.1 billion in corporate subsidies since he took office.
  • Christie refuses to consider a Millionaire’s Tax, which would generate much-needed funds for the cash-strapped Garden State.

And this is an abbreviated list that doesn’t include Bridgegate legal fees, lavish expense account spending, and countless other financial offenses.

Since Christie took office, and as a direct result of his reckless spending and economic policies, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded a record nine times–and the state’s unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation. Members of the middle class are finding themselves in perpetual financial struggles, and New Jersey is one of only three states whose poverty rate rose from 2012 to 2013.

But don’t worry, because Wall Street is doing just fine.

In New Jersey, only about 20% of the state’s pension funding between 1993 and 2012 came from the state’s (non public-employee) taxpayers, though the governor would like his constituents to believe otherwise. The governor also would doesn’t want anyone to consider the connection between a solvent pension system and a strong economy, or the message he’s sending by sending billions of dollars to Wall Street instead of using them to strengthen the state’s middle class. Instead, Governor Christie spends his time vilifying and demonizing public workers, and he’s accomplished as much by perpetuating the public’s unfounded but increasing mistrust of public employees. (In the case of teachers, Christie has happily perpetuated the myth that our educators and schools are failing.)

New Jersey taxpayers should be furious–but not at public workers, who have never skipped pension payments and are contributing at record rates to their health benefits. Not at teachers, who stand faithfully in front of classrooms in schools that for decades have ranked among the very top in the nation.

No: taxpayers should be furious at Chris Christie, who has enriched his friends with billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of all of New Jersey’s residents.

I leave you with this: at the beginning of his term as governor, Chris Christie said, of public employees, “Our benefits are too rich [actually, Governor, NJ ranks 95th out of the top 100 plans nationally for “pension generosity“], and our employees aren’t contributing enough, either” [it wouldn’t be difficult to find teachers who would share a pay stub revealing a $1,000+ monthly contribution to their pension and benefits].

Yes, that quote came from the same Chris Christie who has managed to spend $82,594–more than most teachers make for a year of work–of taxpayers’ money to buy food and alcohol at concession stands at MetLife Stadium.

Talk about benefits being too rich.

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*Adding, on June 4th: David Sirota is reporting that Christie’s administration has deliberately omitted information about Wall Street fees in its pension analysis reports (emphasis mine; read the whole article here):

“The Christie administration’s pension analysis, obtained through an open records request by International Business Times, omitted so-called performance fees that the state is paying to Wall Street. Those levies, which give financial firms a cut of the state’s investment gains, now total hundreds of millions of dollars a year. A Christie administration presentation to state pension trustees also obtained by IBTimes similarly omitted those performance fees”

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