Three members of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Jersey City’s Gerard Balmir (D-3) and Bill O’Dea (D-2), as well as Hoboken’s Anthony Romano (D-5), were vocal about letting voters decide on whether or not they should help pay billions of dollars into the state’s pension fund.
“I am in support of making sure that people that have worked hard for the state all their lives have a pension that they can live off of,” began Balmir.
“But you cannot have a union talking about their gonna withhold political contributions for an elected official if they don’t do what they’re told. We already have elected … a state of residents that look at elected officials like we’re crooked, bought and sold.”
Balmir, who made headlines in October after Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop blamed him for his wife taking a job in state Senate President Steve Sweeney’s office, added that he supports union membership, but not the specific way they are handling this situation.
Yesterday, Sweeney, an expected Democratic gubernatorial candidate for next year, dropped a bombshell when he called on both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the NJEA and the Fraternal Order of Police for threatening to withhold contributions unless the aforementioned pension question is on the November ballot.
O’Dea expressed some frustration over the fact that Hudson County has never missed a pension payment and that politics should not be playing a role in this matter: “let the people decide,” he said.
“As for what unions decide what their gonna hold or withhold, I guess that’s a separate issue now some law enforcement agency to determine … what exactly the repercussions are,” he later stated.
“I mean I’m sure that no president of the Senate or Speaker of the Assembly threatened a member of the Democratic caucus with being removed from a committee or not having support if they fail to vote for an item. So … assuming that that’s never been the case then I could probably sympathetic to what was stated yesterday.”
O’Dea concluded by noting that in the event he is proven wrong, “we’ve gotta realize that politics is not a … it’s a contact sport.”
Citing a recent campaign commercial by Democratic president nominee Hillary Clinton that talked about setting the right example for out children, Balmir again interjected, this time exclaiming that “me, myself, I don’t want to be perceived as someone whose bought and sold.”
Therefore he does not support any group threatening elected officials by withholding funds, Balmir said from the dais.
Freeholder Anthony Romano (D-5), a retired Hoboken police captain then weighed in on the issue, getting heated when discussing how pension funds have been seriously depleted in recent years.
” … This governor’s going back 20 years, took our pension money and the majority of the population don’t realize that the issue is that’s our money: that we put in, those of us that worked in police and fire pension. They took our money, that money should be put back!”
Romano added that such a matter should not become a political game and that union members threatening officials is wrong.
A police union official for 20 years, Romano also blasted the June state Supreme Court ruling that said NJ isn’t obligated to pay $13 billion in cost of living adjustments (COLA) on retired employees’ pensions suspended since 2011 (h/t The Asbury Park Press).
The freeholder board voted 7-0, with Freeholder Al Cifelli (D-9) and Kenny Kopacz (D-1) absent), for a resolution urging state lawmakers to add the pension referendum on the November 8 ballot.
West New York Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez (D-7) voted via phone.
A spokesman for Sweeney’s office and a spokesman for the NJEA, respectively, did not immediately return emails seeking comment, but Sweeney did address the issue on Twitter early this evening.
“If you’re going to take a pay cut, you can’t run out and buy a new car. This is common sense…and governing is the same thing,” he initially tweeted.
“Thats why 2day I repeated my desire to pass the pension amend., but only if we pass a responsible fix for the TTF … Blowing a hole in our budget AND passing the amendment would destroy funding for so many essential services that protect our most vulnerable,” two subsequent tweets read.