Last week, NJ Governor, Chris Christie, delivered a sobering “State of the State” speech. His central message stated the obvious, the State of New Jersey is in disastrous financial shape. In an effort to control the budget, Governor Christie announced spending freezes and cost-cutting measures. One of these cut the NJ Transit State subsidy to the tune of $32.7 million. Governor Christie encouraged NJ Transit to “revisit” their union contracts in order to make spending cuts of their own and to increase their efficiency.
Today, the Executive Director of NJ Transit responded to the $32.7 million subsidy loss. They plan to raise fares by as much as 30% as soon as this coming May. For a person traveling between South Orange and NY Penn Station, this would mean an increase of $46.20 per month—from $154 to over $200 for a monthly pass. There was nothing in their response about re-negotiating union contracts or efficiency measures, although they did blame Governor Christie for the upcoming fare increases, service cuts and possible employee furloughs. (Their fault finding sounded more than vaguely whiny.) NJ Transit has depended on the public dole for so long, that it does not occur to them that revenue could be increased by other means. I would wager that increasing ridership by lowering fares, increasing service on selected routes and decreasing it on others was not explored as an option to close their budget gap. Moreover, I doubt that that those union contracts will ever be revisited, except under extreme duress.
In this age of class warfare, we are told over and over again that the “rich”, “fat cat bankers”, “Wall Street”, “Corporations”, “Republicans”, “Bush”, etc. have caused our present economic catastrophe. Furthermore, we hear that the “Progressives” in Washington want to correct these terrible transgressions against the “middle class”, “working people”, etc. through “reforms”, i.e., increased regulations and penalties designed to “get our money back”, “decrease future risk”, “be fair”, etc. This type of rhetoric is orchestrated to distract us away from the real culprits in our midst–the public unions who have consistently paid for pensions and other benefits by parasitically latching onto tax-payer money.
Governor Christie has it right. Instead of bashing those in the private sector who actually create products, wealth and jobs, our attention should be focused on how those in the public sector can make pension contributions of $125K during their working lives and then receive approximately $2 million during their retirement. Obviously, there are some unions, like the Reno, Nevada Police Department, who have a completely self-funded pension plan. These pay their own way and should be a model for all public unions. However, the fact is that the vast majority of public unions have shortfalls between the benefits that they have promised their members and what their income allows them to pay. Like NJ Transit, they expect the difference to be made up by a tax-payer who has already paid for their service and then pay again through increased taxes or, worse still, by a tax-payer who never uses NJ Transit at all.
Our anger would be better directed at the public unions that feel a sense of entitlement. Despite the incredibly tough economy, they are strangers to the concept of sacrifice. In a time when “working people” are suffering pay cuts, working fewer hours or without employment altogether, the public unions expect the incomes and lifestyles of their retirees to endure untouched. Nice work, if you can get it!