Monday, June 9, 2014

Asm. Ciattarelli to NJs 1%: Keep Calm and Count Your Money

I'm sure the taxpayers of New Jersey's 16th legislative district will rest comfortably tonight knowing that their Assemblyman, Republican Jack Ciattarelli, is looking out for their financial well being. I ran against Ciattarelli in 2011 and 2013, so I was particularly interested in this piece he wrote for the Star Ledger today about that oft-touted Christie phrase, 'shared sacrifice'.

As a public school teacher, I'm well acquainted with Christie's version of that lofty and noble goal; I've done quite a bit of it in the past 5 years as my paycheck has gotten smaller and my workload and the number of jobs I hold have gotten larger. Although this is not WWII England and Christie is no Winston Churchill, Ciattarelli is doing his best British government impersonation as he allays the fears of the 1%:

That's right, folks. In the run up to the June 30 budget deadline, Ciattarelli wants to publicly ease any fears his super wealthy constituents may have about anything that may harm a single blade of grass on their perfectly manicured and gated lawns. He wants to make sure that the "mega-rich" (a word he never wants us to utter lest it suggest "that Republicans are 'shielding a certain population'", and they would never, ever do that, now would they?) are not fettered and stressed as they count their money and compound their interest. But you and me? Pshaw! We better just hunker down in our bomb shelters 'cause that blitzkrieg on the middle class and the poor ain't lettin' up any time soon.

(Hey, sorry for that run-on sentence in that last paragraph, but that's what happens when I've been fed a steady diet of cow pie for 5 years.)

"Elected leaders should be prepared to ask all New Jerseyans to be part of some 'call to arms.'"

Yes!! Let me grab my sword and shield, utter some profound parting words, kiss my children goodbye, and head off to fight the good fight for... Who? You? Me? Not in Ciattarelli's eyes.

Assemblyman, where was your call for shared sacrifice to reinstate the "millionaire's tax" (another one of your 'never, ever' words) when Gov. Christie failed to renew it, thereby giving a tax cut to those making over $500,000? Where was your call for shared sacrifice when Gov. Christie vetoed an increase on the earned income tax credit, thus taking real dollars out of the hands of the poor? Where was your call for shared sacrifice when Christie tried to pass an income tax cut that even the Office of Legislative Services said would have greatly benefitted the wealthy? Because as much as you try to deny it, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the "1 percent" (another 'never, ever' phrase) in New Jersey pay a much lower portion of their income in overall taxes as compared to the rest of us:

"How about re-engineering and reducing our state workforce?"

In Christie's first 19 months in office, the state workforce was reduced by almost 29,000. That was 29,000 middle class people collecting unemployment and not contributing to the economy. That was 29,000 middle class people who were not able to pay their bills or put food on the table or save for emergencies. That was 29,000 middle class people who lost their jobs so the 1% could keep more of their money. That was 29,000 middle class people—some of whom may still be out of work. That's 29,000 less middle class people who work in our schools, libraries, police and fire departments, who fix our roads (but there's no money for that anyway), who keep our courts, hospitals, state, county and municipal offices functioning. But I guess that's ok for the 1% because as you point out, even though "they pay exorbitant taxes on their homes... many times [they don't use] all the local services those property taxes fund." Yes, because they can afford to send their children to some of the best private schools in the country instead of the increasingly underfunded public schools. They can hire their own security details, so who cares if the local police force is decimated? They have landscapers on call when the Bentley needs to be plowed out. The private jet is waiting at the local airport so it doesn't matter if the major roads are a disaster. And even if they do have to drive to Newark, they aren't actually driving. No, they don't really need New Jersey, but I'm so glad they are here because what would we do without them? After all, aren't they the job creators?

The "successful... should not be demonized. Nor should the poor or struggling middle class."

In all seriousness, you are absolutely right. Anyone who works hard to earn a decent wage should not be demonized. But they should also be expected to share the sacrifice, and quite simply, thanks to policies you support, they aren't, and that's why so many people are so mad. And the more Republicans shield them from real shared sacrifice, the more they will be demonized because the rest of us are getting screwed. We are being demonized for everything from being able to bear children, to needing to eat, to simply being poor. And the economic climate in this state is so dismal that there is very little hope for many of us who work hard every day to pull ourselves up out of the hole that we did not dig ourselves into.

"How about public employees not collecting a huge payment upon retirement for unused sick and vacation time?"

The state and municipalities have always had the ability to scale back or eliminate sick and vacation payouts at retirement. It's called the bargaining table. But as we've seen time and again, many Republicans are all too eager to attack organized labor—one of the last vestiges of a strong middle class—while giving billions away in tax breaks to the wealthy, and big corporations that either don't pay a decent wage and benefits, or don't deliver the jobs in the first place.

How do you spell bankrupt? R-E-V-E-L
If you and other Republicans want to continue to push austerity measures which, by the way, only benefit "the mega-rich" (another of your never, ever words), please tell Christie that if he is going to reneg on the state's legally obligated pension payment this year, he should stop investing some of it in boondoggles like this. ------>

"How about replacing the double-dippers' grandfather clause with a sunset provision that ends the practice once and for all?"

Well then... I expect you've been leading the charge on the investigation into that messy little situation with Lt. Governor Guadagno's term as Monmouth County Sheriff. That story's been kicking around for a few years and I haven't seen your name attached to any investigations.

“The documents show Guadagno made false and misleading statements to enable Michael Donovan to continue collecting pension checks that should have stopped, and that she helped him circumvent the rules by playing around with job titles,” said Mark Lagerkvist, investigative editor for New Jersey Watchdog, who sued for release of the documents. “Based on the information released, there is a real question whether the Division of Criminal Justice did the legitimate investigation that the PFRS (Police and Firemen’s Retirement System) Board asked it to do.”

Christie beat the double-dipping war drums when he ran in 2009, but has done nothing to change the system. So you can lay the blame for that squarely at his feet. You can hem and haw all you want about Dems blocking any legislation, but just take a look at the roster of Democrats Christiecrats who endorsed him last year. 'Bipartisanship' has a completely different meaning in NJ, especially when you see how many R's and D's are enjoying that double scoop of pension on top of their government sundae. It's an equal opportunity loophole—one that I agree needs to be plugged. But if Christie spent half as much time excoriating the 'greedy' and 'selfish' (his words, not mine) public employees who do that instead of rank and file workers, he'd have had that sewn up a few years ago.

Don't worry, Assemblyman, I wasn't grandfathered into the pen-ben bill, so I'll have to work until I'm 67 before I retire. But before you go throwing around $40,000 pension caps, consider this: many retirees' pensions are nowhere near that much. And their cost of living has been frozen for the past four years. Then, consider this: pensions are more stable than 401(k)s. You want people to work longer, pay more into the plan (which we're currently doing) get less when we retire (also currently doing), and now you want to change the rules of the game again to create less stability for retirees when they did not cause this mess in the first place? And you wonder why the 99% think the 1% are getting off easy?

"How about making a new case for freezing state aid in school districts whose current aid and/or cost-per-student exceed state averages by, say, 150% or 200%?"

... Because low income students don't need any more help than their more financially stable suburban counterparts—even the ones who can afford to attend $30K/year elite private schools. *Sigh* I will leave the school funding debate to the experts. If you really, truly want to educate yourself on school funding and why NJ's beleagered but still highly effective school funding formula works for our low income students, start reading Jersey Jazzman and Dr. Bruce Baker—both NJ educators, both experts in their field, both have done their homework and have debunked the reformy rhetoric.

Leveraging "New Jersey's fiscal crisis for political theatre and gain"

May I remind you that your governor, the one you and the rest of your fellow Republican legislators down in Trenton have failed to stand up to time and time again in matters affecting the middle class, the poor, senior citizens, children, women, healthcare, public education and a whole host of other issues, takes the cake. Do I really need to explain?

"Leadership is putting your own political ambitions aside, rallying the people around a common cause and solving New Jersey's challenges in the best interest of all its citizens."

Assemblyman, it's time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, not only on the issue of state workers and how they are compensated, but a whole host of other issues. As one of your constituents, I'll be watching very closely over the next 20 days to see how you stand up for all of us.  

And I'll be watching how your caucus votes on the Sandy Bill of Rights veto override Thursday. You know, that little bill that both houses unanimously passed, that Christie conditionally vetoed, that Sen. Tom Kean has now announced you all won't be supporting?