Anyone who wants more evidence of the Star-Ledger op-ed page’s general anti-union, anti-public education slant–typically led by editorial board editor Tom Moran–need look no further than today’s column by Paul Mulshine entitled “Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto’s pension plan sounds a lot like Chris Christie’s.”
Mulshine, who tried but was evidently unable to reach Speaker Prieto for comment, says he asked NJEA Director of Communications Steve Wollmer “how the state could come up with the cash to make [the pension] payments” outlined in Prieto’s plan.
Here’s Mulshine’s reporting of Wollmer’s response (emphasis mine):
I asked Wollmer what level of new taxes or spending cuts could make this pig fly, or at least put lipstick on it.
“Everyone talks about the millionaires’ tax,” he said. “That’s $700 million a year.”
Sounds good, but that’s just a fraction of the $4.3 billion annual payment recommended by actuaries.
Other than that, Wollmer couldn’t come up with any suggestions for big-ticket revenue-raisers. Instead he reiterated the line the union’s been pushing to avoid that question.
“The teachers didn’t create this problem and have been paying into the fund,” he said.
Many people, NJEA members included, were angered by various aspects of Mulshine’s column–and there was evidence of as much in a discussion thread on a closed Facebook group for current, retired, and student members of the New Jersey Education Association. After all, it seems that virtually everyone who’s been paying attention to the pension crisis is aware of Chris Christie’s promises to public employees that he wouldn’t touch the pension system, his subsequent 2011 pension reforms, his failure to follow the law he himself signed in 2011, and the court battle that resulted in a judge declaring part of the 2011 reforms unconstitutional. And it also seems that virtually everyone who’s been paying attention is aware of the many, many, many, many ways that the governor has squandered billions of dollars that could have closed the pension gap–and the changes legislators could make to put the pension fund on the track to solvency.
So how could it be possible that the Director of Communications of the New Jersey Education Association was unable to come up with any solutions–other than the millionaire’s tax–to the pension crisis? How could he have so little to offer in response to Mulshine’s question?
The answer, not surprisingly, is that NJEA Director of Communications Steve Wollmer had plenty to say to Paul Mulshine: but Paul Mulshine chose to ignore what likely amounts to 99% of what Wollmer described on the NJEA Facebook group thread as a 45-minute phone conversation the two had on Friday.
During that conversation, when Mulshine asked how NJ could come up with the money to fund the pension system, Wollmer says he suggested a corporate excise tax, a gasoline tax, an end to Christie’s muti-billion dollar tax credit giveaways for zero job creation, and a millionaire’s tax–but It seems that Mulshine ignored all but Wollmer’s final suggestion.
And then Mulshine accused Wollmer of reiterating the “line the union’s been pushing” (about teachers not creating the pension crisis) to “avoid” answering the question about funding.
Put simply, Mulshine’s claim that Wollmer “couldn’t come up with any suggestions for big-ticket revenue raisers” was a blatant lie.
Union haters will, of course, present Mulshine’s column as concrete “I-told-you-so” evidence that unions have no solutions to the pension crisis. No surprise there. Also unfortunate is that people who don’t necessarily harbor ill-will towards public employees or their unions will infer, from Mulshine’s column, that the state does not have the money–and cannot find it–to fulfill its pension obligations.
But most unfortunate is that a columnist at the state’s largest newspaper would pose a very specific question to NJEA’s Director of Communications and then deliberately misrepresent and omit most of the answer he very specific answer received.
What kind of reporting is that?
More largely, and certainly more troubling, Mulshine’s column is just one minuscule example of a nation-wide–no, global--effort to undermine unions and their members by perpetuating the myth that they complain without offering solutions and want unreasonable “entitlements” (because pensions aren’t deferred compensation, right?) at the expense of taxpayers (because union members aren’t taxpayers, right?).
And until the media abandons this kind of underhanded anti-union propaganda and calls sufficient attention to the real problem–the billions in taxpayer dollars that are being used to enrich corporations, hedge-fund managers, politicians, and political donors–hardworking public employees will continue to be vilified by people who mistake columns like Mulshine’s for unbiased reporting.
*This post was constructed based solely on information posted on the closed NJEA Facebook group, of which I’m a member. It was not solicited, approved, or endorsed by anyone at the New Jersey Education Association.