3 Hudson freeholders support adding pension question to Nov. ballot


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.

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  1. Doesn’t Freeholder Romano collect well over six figures in taxpayer paid pension in addition to his Freeholder salary and benefits have millions in real-estate holdings all while living in tax payer subsidized housing ?

  2. Part time seasonal life guards in Atlantic city getting lifetime public pensions.

    NJ ligue of municipalities director (private corporation) getting lifetime public pension.

    Chiefs of police supervised by directors of public safety – lifetime public pensions.

    Board of education cronies paying themselves 200k – 300k salaries, lifetime pensions.

    And on, and on, and on.

    I am asking: why is one part of society is entitled to leech off the other? Why can’t they have social security like the rest of us?

    Once open a time, in nj there was no pension system, and public workers managed to work.

    • Public sector is sacrosanct. Since the 80’s employee plans were being terminated left and right. In 2000 the pension formulas – if you are fortunate to have one in a Fortune 500 produce much lower payouts and have a higher vesting schedule. Don’t forget not only do government employees get their full pension (and are allowed to work and collect) but most also have a post retirement medical benefit equal to about $1200 per month.

      Two reasons for high State Contributions required for annual funding – there is likely an Unfunded Accrued liability for 1./ the Pension Plan 2./ the Post Retirement Medical Plan.

      I was not sure what the proposal is on putting it to vote. A plan can terminate at any time or you can grandfather some and change the benefits for others based upon Date of Hire. On the medical component underfunded liabilities are generally HUGE as the promises were made on a Pay-As-You-Go basis. And guess what else? That medical benefit generally is richer than Medicare and it continues for life!

      So as you can see there are many parameters not spelled out. Putting out to vote is i no way a black and white proposition yet something must be done. The issue is NOT simply a./break a sacrosanct promise or b./continue Contributions under the same Benefit Design.

      I suppose this is what politicians do. Adjusting the Benefit design would require actuarial studies on changing new employee benefits and different benefit design for various cohorts (ie, dates of hire and coverage under the Plan).

      Positioning Government Benefits on par with private industry has the added benefit – and is a good first step – to ending some of the corruption in Government.

  3. Quoting ……….

    “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!””

    Does anybody ever bother to fact-check the details, implied honesty, and noteworthy omissions of statements such as that above ?

    Sure, NJ police regularly contribute to their own pensions. But those who understand the math behind these pensions know that all of these officer’s own pension contributions (INCLUDING ALL THE INVESTMENT EARNINGS THEREON) rarely accumulate to a sum at retirement sufficient to buy more than 10 to 20% of their EXTRAORDINARILY generous pensions ….. with Taxpayer contributions (and the investment earnings thereon) on the hook for the 80% to 90% balance.

    Above I said “EXTRAORDINARY generous pensions”. Indeed they are. With Police Officer per-year-of-service pension formula-factors typically DOUBLE those of the few Private Sector workers lucky enough to still get Defined Benefit pensions (most now getting only a 401k company “match”) and typically retiring (with ZERO actuarial reduction in payout) 10 years younger than those in the Private Sector, even assuming that COLAs (that are NEVER included in employer-sponsored Private Sector pensions) never return, NJ Police pensions are ROUTINELY 4 times greater in value at retirement than those of Private Sector workers retiring with the SAME pay, at the SAME age, and with the SAME years of service.

    How are such EXTRAORDINARILY generous pensions necessary, justifiable, fair to Taxpayers (who are called upon to pay for 80% to 90% of total Plan costs) or even remotely affordable? Of course they are NOT …. and never were, even without the many many pension enhancements granted Police over the years.

    This week we witnessed the Public Sector Unions’ threat to withhold campaign contributions if the NJ legislature won’t do it’s bidding. Nothing new here. The collusion between the Public Sector Unions and our UNION-BOUGHT-OFF Elected Officials has been going on for decades, with these grossly excessive Public Sector pensions and retiree healthcare benefits (almost non-existent in the Private Sector today) the result of that collusion.

    By any and every mean at our disposal … legal or not ….. NJ’s taxpayers must renege on these unnecessary, unjust, unfair, unaffordable and grossly excessive pension and benefit “promises”.

    Haven’t we (NJ’s Taxpayers) been hoodwinked long enough ?