I sympathize with our public workers whose pensions are funded by the state - particularly folks in the PERS and teacher systems. It totally stinks that state leaders over the 20 years preceding the 2011 reforms made promises they should have known they couldn't keep, and then shortchanged an already over-stressed system. To be fair, union leaders were guilty as well. Everyone sitting at those bargaining tables knew - or should have known - that they were setting up our public pension systems to fail in the future.
Unfortunately neither members of the public nor union members can go back in time and alter our path by choosing leaders who put responsibility ahead of their own ambitions. I am desperately trying to be a different kind of leader.
In order to live up to that aspiration I have to tell it like it is.
Gov. Chris Christie is right. We must make further changes to our pension system. There is no mathematical way to fix the system as it is without either massive cuts
to state services and aid, which would necessitate layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and public workers, or massive tax increases that will destroy our economy. I apologize that the reforms that we passed in 2011 didn't solve the problem. I was at that table and folks on both sides were acting in good faith. Had we had the growth over the past several years - that was fair to assume we would back in 2011 - we would be much closer to our projections of our ability to meet our commitments. But that hasn't happened. The sooner we face that reality the better.
The folks simply clinging to the "just make the payment mantra" are like folks on the Titanic refusing to leave their staterooms. Saying, "I paid for this and am not giving it up! Blame the ship designers!" won't help you when the seawater hits your door. And those taking heart in the empty rhetoric of those pointing the finger - rather than coming up with real solutions - are deluding themselves. Discussions focusing on past investment returns and fees are important - we should care about such matters - but they won't help us make payments today. I'm open to alternatives to the plan put forward by the governor and the pension commission - but to date I have seen nothing but head-in-the-sand pandering. And repeating the words "just make the payment" or we have to "find a way" don't qualify as plans - and won't win anyone any awards for gutsy leadership.
The bi-partisan pension reform commission created by the governor isn't some random, biased, incompetent group of men doing an evil, union-hating governor's bidding. The commission is made up of some of the best, most independent thinkers of our time. To reflexively dismiss them as just another group of political hacks huddled in a back room charged with figuring out a way to kick the can down the road would be a grave mistake. If we miss this opportunity to seize the moment - and make the next round of reforms that will, hopefully, put us on a long-term, sound financial path - we will have no one but ourselves to blame. And we will be the next generation to earn the blame of the one that follows - that we had the chance to solve these issues, but chose instead to take a pass. And we will all be left with an even more insurmountable hurdle to overcome.