Bad Timing and Poor Taste
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Frankly, there is really no other issue in the state that compares
to the massive budget deficit we face. The fact that we are short
by $2 billion now and well over $3 billion in the near future will
drive virtually every decision Governor-elect Jim McGreevey and
the new state legislature will have to make. Healthcare, education,
the environment, the contracts of state workers and taxes-all of
these issues will be dealt with in light of our unprecedented money
There will be sacrifice. There will be pain. There will be many
worthwhile projects and programs that won't get funded because of
this. Given this gloomy fiscal picture, why in the world are certain
forces in the legislature, particularly in the Senate, attempting
to pass a bill that would increase pension benefits to Senators
who have served for more than 22 years?
A couple of points; I am a former member of the state legislature
and every Senator who is in line to get a pension increase used
to be a colleague. All of them are good people who have served with
distinction. Further, I have never been one to criticize increasing
the salary for legislators who play an important role in our lives,
even if most citizens don't understand what they do.
But attempting to increase the pension benefits for a few veteran
Senators is absolutely insane. The timing couldn't be worse. Not
only is the economy in trouble, but people are losing their jobs
and those who are lucky enough to have jobs are receiving minimal,
if any, pay increases. Employers are cutting health benefits and
looking for any angle to save a few dollars at the expense of employees.
The economic fallout from September 11 is just beginning to be felt.
Look, the amount of money we are talking about is no big deal.
Only a few Senators are eligible for the pension hike. Yet, by doing
this the problem is that the legislature loses all credibility with
citizens, community groups, schools and state employees who they
will be having to say "no" to in the months ahead. Why
should everyone else have to take a hit and understand that there
is simply no money for worthwhile projects and programs, yet the
money seems to be there for a select few state legislators who have
served in Trenton for 22 years or more?
It's not only a question of bad timing, it's an issue of poor taste
for the legislature to do anything that could be perceived as benefiting
themselves right now. If I as a former legislator who likes and
respects all of the Senators who are receiving the pension hike
feels like this, just imagine what the vast majority of citizens
who don't particularly like politicians are feeling?
I urge the state legislature to reject the pension hike. Not that
it isn't deserved, but that it will only increase the chasm between
citizens and elected officials at all levels of government. The
good old boy network has its place in the state capital and helping
our friends is okay most of the time, but this is just simply wrong.
This is a no brainer. Even the state legislature should know that.
A final footnote. It's funny. Ever since Governor-elect Jim McGreevey
publicly announced that we needed to stop spending on any new projects
or programs out of the State Capital, both Democrats and Republicans
in the legislature have engaged in a spending frenzy that is simply
embarrassing. McGreevey can't blame the Republicans for this because
while those same Republicans who call themselves fiscal conservatives
are spending for their pet projects, Democrats have been just as
bad. Look, the problems in Camden are well documented, but is the
time really right to spend $150 million of state money to help Camden
out? That effort is being led by Democratic Senator Wayne Bryant.
One wonders if Jim McGreevey is starting to feel a little like Rodney
Dangerfield who was famous for his one-liner, "I get no respect."
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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