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NEWS...

CHRISTIE CAMPAGIN LETTER PROMISED 'NO HARM' TO POLICE, FIREFIGHTER PENSIONS

CLIFFVIEW PILOT.COM - February 25, 2011 - "The claim that any harm would come to your pension when I'm elected Governor is absolutely untrue. It is a 100% lie," Chris Christie wrote to New Jersey law enforcement officers during his campaign against Jon Corzine. The 2009 letter, and a near-carbon copy sent to firefighters, has resurfaced amid Christie's bid to overhaul public servants' pension system.

"Nothing will change for the pensions of current officers, future officers or retirees in a Christie Administration," says the "Open Letter to Members of Our Law Enforcement Community," simply signed "Chris."

"I have repeated time and time again that the pension agreement we made with our member our law enforcement community must be respected," the 2009 letter adds. "It is a sacred trust."

Christie sent a similar "sacred trust" letter to firefighters through the state, adding: "The notion that I would eliminate, change, or alter your pension is not only a lie, but cannot be further from the truth.

"No one will stand up for you more than I will."

"Do not believe the lies that have been spread about my proposals," Christie told both groups. "Your pension will be protected when I am elected Governor."

 

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE STRENGTHENS AND IMPROVES TOOL KIT
BILL TO STOP SICK AND VACATION BENEFIT ABUSE

Conditional Veto Expands and Strengthens Bill Provisions to Better
Protect Taxpayers and Provide Relief for Strained Local Budgets


Trenton, NJ - Governor Chris Christie today issued a conditional veto of
S-2220, a tool kit bill and element of the Christie Reform Agenda, to
strengthen and improve upon the bill and more effectively stop the abuse
of sick and vacation benefits, or supplemental compensation. While the
bill accomplishes a large part of Governor Christie's reform goals for
these benefits, the Governor has identified provisions in the bill that
can be improved upon to further assist strained local budgets and help
meet the reality of Cap 2.0.

"This bill represents a good-faith continuation of the public employee
benefits reform I signed into law earlier this year that will serve as a
critical cost-savings tool for municipalities and school boards that must
live within our property tax cap. I applaud the bill sponsors and the
legislature for taking action on this critical reform measure. By working
together, as we have in the preceding days, we are showing New Jerseyans
and the country that real change is possible when to come together to
work on real, meaningful solutions, in the public's best interest," said
Governor Christie. "The changes I've put forward for this legislation
make common sense and important improvements to strengthen the bill's
provisions and more effectively curb the unreasonable and abusive public
employee payouts that come at the public's expense."

Governor Christie urged the legislature to act quickly to adopt the
substantive changes in the conditional veto, and continue building upon
the progress that has been made on critical elements of the Christie
Reform Agenda, including comprehensive reforms to the interest
arbitration system announced today.

"In these difficult economic and budgetary times, New Jersey taxpayers
can no longer be asked to foot the bill for a system that is rife with
waste and abuse. Sick days provide time off for employees who are sick,
and do not represent an additional form of compensation for employees who
are fortunate enough to remain healthy. Whatever rationale once justified
this type of abuse, the time has come for the practice to end," added
Governor Christie. "Those individuals who abuse the public trust must not
be allowed to further exploit the system for their own enrichment. The
changes identified by my Administration and addressed in this conditional
veto go further to put an end to these practices. I urge the legislature
to continue the important progress we've made in delivering real reform
to the people of New Jersey by acting quickly to adopt these changes and
providing an important element of the tool kit to local governments."

Governor Christie's Conditional Veto makes the following improvements to
S-2220, to improve and strengthen the legislation, better protect
taxpayers and provide even greater budgetary relief to municipalities:

* Strengthen the public trust by suspending supplemental compensation for
any employee under indictment for a crime that involves or touches his or
her public office, and mandate the forfeiture of any supplemental
compensation if convicted;

* Phase out the practice of distributing cash payouts for sick days by
prohibiting supplemental compensation for sick days that accumulate after
the effective date of the legislation for all state, local government and
school district employees;

* Require that sick days accrued prior to the effective date of this
legislation be used before those days accrued after the effective date;

* Expand to all current employees at any point during their employment,
not just hires after the effective date of the bill in the twelve months
before retirement, the requirement that a physician provide written
verification for use of six or more consecutive sick days; and

* Require that vacation days accrued prior to the effective date (those
not subject to the one-year carry forward provision) of this legislation
be used before those days accrued after the effective date (those subject
to one-year carry forward restriction).

 

MOUNT OLIVE COP: POLITICIANS CAUSED PENSION WOES
The writer, Michael Poquat, is a police officer in Mount Olive Township.

MOUNT OLIVE CHRONICLE - November 12, 2010 - As a police officer in the state of New Jersey, I find myself unable to sit by while the current climate of public employee bashing continues under the misinformation fed to the public by the media and our current governor.

While I can not comment on the teacher’s retirement system, I can speak about the Police and Fire Retirement Fund (PFRS), and more specifically, how it has been mishandled by some of our elected officials. The truth should come out, and the public has a right to know how we got to where we are today.

Long before I became a police officer, the state of New Jersey enacted a law which required police officers and firemen to contribute a certain percentage of their salary into the state’s “secure” pension fund. Throughout my 22 year career, I have paid 8.5 percent of my salary, as mandated by law, into this fund every pay period.

I was not given the option to place my 8.5 percent in an IRA or other investment fund. Every pay check since I was 25 years old had the 8.5 percent taken out of my pay and placed into the PFRS with the promise that the money would be there when I retired.  By law, towns and municipalities were required to match that 8.5 percent.

By the time Gov. Christine Todd Whitman took office, there was over $100 billion in the fund. This meant that at the current rate of retirements, pension costs for police officers and firemen were funded at 104 percent, well into the future.  This was a prudent and financially responsible plan that worked, and it provided security for the families of these men and woman who risked their lives every day serving and protecting the citizens of New Jersey.

In no way was it heavily over funded or excessive. It covered the costs of promised retirements with a small cushion left over. It was at this time that Whitman stepped in. Gov. Whitman recognized the billions of dollars in our “secure” and “separate” pension fund, and she proceeded to raid that fund. Unknown and unannounced to the public, monies were indiscriminately withdrawn from the PFRS and used to pay for Whitman’s tax cuts and to balance the state budget.

Billions of dollars were taken, and to make matters worse, the Whitman administration passed a law allowing towns and municipalities to no longer contribute to the fund. Over $3 billion in contributions were skipped over the next eight years, while the individual police officers and firefighters continued to have  their 8.5 percent contribution taken from them and placed into the PFRS.

The state gambled for years, relying heavily on the returns from the stock market to cover the missing funds. Politicians misspoke on the campaign trail, touting the virtues of how their financial genius was able to balance their state and local budgets, and the public was lulled into a sense of false financial security.

But the small print in Whitman’s bill was ignored. The funds they failed to contribute would have to be made up at a later date. The pension reprieve was temporary and their contributions would have to be paid back, just like any other loan. It was quietly suggested by the Whitman administration that towns set these contributions aside for when the state called to make good on them. It appears most towns and municipalities failed to heed this advice.

Governors (Donald) DiFrancesco, (James) McGreevy, and (Richard) Codey continued this trend, and all failed to call the towns and municipalities on their “loan” while the PFRS fund continued to dwindle down close to $66 billion. They remained silent. To bring this to light at this point would certainly mean political suicide, knowing that towns and municipalities would have to raise taxes to make up for their error in financial judgment and planning.

It wasn’t until Gov. Jon Corzine took office that this trend was stopped, but unfortunately, the damage was done. Gov. Corzine made the call the governors before him were afraid to make. He advised the towns and municipalities that it was time to pay back the monies the towns had been given a temporary reprieve on. And the media jumped on this, printing bold headlines “Towns going broke over police and fire pensions.”

This attention grabbing and misleading headline made it appear that your police and firemen were bilking the taxpayers dry, when the truth is totally the opposite. The politicians bilked your police officers and firemen dry and in the long run, the tax payers of New Jersey.

Towns and municipalities knew they were going to have to pay this money back and for them to insinuate otherwise is simply not true. Realizing the gravity of the situation, a new bill was introduced and passed into law. This allowed the towns to pay back the loan given to them by their public employees in increments; starting at 20 percent, 40 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent, and finally 100 percent each proceeding year.

Towns and municipalities continue to act as if they have been caught unaware and shocked by this entire process. The public is being told that payments for police and fire pensions are doubling, tripling and quadrupling and that the public employee system is out of control. What the public needs to know is that they are the victims of a mounting debt that was created by the Whitman administration and compounded by those following her tenure.

To blame your public employees for the abuses of the pension system is ludicrous at best, especially when our elected officials are the ones responsible for raiding the fund and then enacting the legislation on how and when to pay it back.

Gov.  Jim Florio recognized the financial hardship facing the state of New Jersey and proceeded to raise the state sales tax to 7 percent. This helped spell political suicide for him, and Gov. Whitman was not going to make the same mistake. She repealed the 7 percent, dropping it back down to the 6 percent, knowing full well this money would have to come from somewhere.

Her solution was to raid the Police and Fire Pension System, allowing her to balance the state budget and give the false appearance that all was fiscally sound under her watch.
Our current governor, facing the same financial crisis of those going before him, has chosen a similar route, but one with a more vilifying tone. He has again found the same victim: Your public employees. When asked about the pension situation in the state of New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie replied “I wasn’t going to put $3 billion into a failing pension system. We need pension reform. I passed some already for new hirees, and this fall we are going after the current employees and pension reform and benefits because we are broke.”

Nowhere does he mention how the public employees had already bailed out this state years before, and now he is focused on “going after” the current employees to fix a mess created and compounded by politicians. To say otherwise for him would be political suicide should he aspire to higher political office, and as most of those before him, he is not about to risk his future. Rather, he would gamble on the future of those men and woman and their families who have served this state with honor and integrity.

The principals of the pension system are not broken Mr. Governor. What is broken is the manner in which the politicians have treated and abused it. Yes, the system is failing now, but not because of your police officers and firemen. As of 2009, the pension fund should have assets of $112 billion to meet its obligations, yet it is currently sitting at $66 billion.

It is the largest unfunded liability in the country. New Jersey is the first state ever to be charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Gov. Christie, strangely, has no comment on this. Yet he continues his rhetoric on the evils done to us by our police officers and firemen, ignoring the truth and lambasting and vilifying us at every turn.

As the saying goes, “Politics has no shame when it comes to preserving your place in office. Why let the truth get in between a good, attention grabbing headline?”

The system is on the brink of collapse and continued arrogance and mudslinging will not fix it. The truth is what it is Mr. Governor, and there is no getting around that. Politicians put us in this mess for their own political gain, not our public employees, as you would like the public to believe. You know this and need to stop ignoring the facts. How we deal with it from here is the measure of each of our character and integrity.  I know the public is smart enough to recognize this and I hope that you are too. Long after you are gone, we will still be here, protecting and serving as we always have. In the end, all we have left is our name. Let’s hope yours is remembered for you’re integrity and not for what you have slung so far in your race for political aspiration. I challenge you to do the right thing, as so many police officers and firemen strive to do every day for their families and the citizens of New Jersey.

 

FEDERAL HEALTH REFORM NOW REQUIRES COVERAGE OF DEPENDANTS UP TO AGE 26
 
On September 23rd, several provisions of the new federal health reform became effective.

One provision of particular interest to our members is the requirement that health plans that offer dependent coverage must offer health care coverage to child dependents up to age 26 starting with the next health plan year after September 23, 2010.

This requirement applies to both public and private sector health plans if those plans offer dependent coverage.   Dependents over the previous cutoff age but under age 26 who have been terminated from a parent or guardian's health plan must be offered the opportunity to re-enroll in that health plan.

Dependents in this group must be treated in the same manner as other dependents.   In other words, if the employer normally pays the entire health insurance premium or fee for a dependent, the employer must pay the entire amount for this group as well.   Or if the employee is required to pay part of the cost of dependent coverage, they can only be required to pay that same percentage for the dependents who are re-enrolling.

Dependents in this group can NOT be denied coverage due to marital status, living out of state, employment status, or failure to live with a parent.   They can only be denied coverage if they are employed and they have a bona fide offer of health insurance through their employer.

Again, this applies to all contracts and can be a very important new benefit for our members.


State Health Benefit Plan

Both state and local government members of the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) can re-enroll their dependents over age 23 and who will not become 26 until 1/1/11 or after during the open enrollment period beginning on October 1.

Dependents under age 23 who were terminated when they married or moved out are also eligible for re-enrollment as long as they are not receiving or haven't received an offer of reasonable insurance through their own employer.

For state employees and some, but not all, local government employees in the SHBP this coverage of dependents will be at no cost to our members.

Below is information appearing on the NJ Division of Pensions and Benefits homepage including links to further information.

Link to SHBP webpage: http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/pensions/hb-age26.shtml

State Health Benefits Program and
School Employees' Health Benefits Program

HEALTH COVERAGE OF CHILDREN UNTIL AGE 26
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Under the provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) will begin coverage of the children of eligible members until age 26 as of January 1, 2011.
ELIGIBILITY
Under the Affordable Care Act:

  • A “child” is defined as an enrollee’s child until age 26, regardless of the child’s marital, student, or financial dependency status — even if the young adult no longer lives with his or her parents.

  • Coverage will be extended to eligible children through December 31 of the year they turn age 26.

  • The extension of coverage is only available if the adult child is not eligible to enroll in other employer-based coverage (aside from coverage through the parent).

ENROLLMENT
October 2010 has been set aside by the SHBP/SEHBP as the period when parents may enroll/re-enroll children who meet the above criteria and who will be under age 26 as of December 31, 2010. 

  • Employees will receive enrollment information from their employers as part of the regular SHBP and SEHBP Open Enrollment communications — view the Age 26 flier. To enroll/re-enroll an eligible child, employees must submit a Health Benefits Application through their employer between October 1 and October 29, 2010.*

  • Retirees have been contacted by direct mail and those wishing to enroll/re-enroll an eligible adult child may use the "tear-off" enrollment form provided in the personalized mailing. Otherwise, retirees may submit a SHBP/SEHBP Retired Change of Status Application to the Health Benefits Bureau of the Division of Pensions and Benefits between October 1 and October 30, 2010.

  • Covered children who turn age 23 during 2010 do not need to be enrolled/re-enrolled during October to continue coverage in 2011. Coverage of enrolled children who are age 23 will be continued automatically.

  • For all enrollments a photocopy of the child's birth certificate that includes the covered parent’s name must be submitted along with the application.

    For a stepchild provide a photocopy of the child’s birth certificate showing the spouse/ partner’s name as a parent and a photocopy of marriage/partnership certificate showing the names of the employee and spouse/partner.

    For a legal guardianship, grandchild, or foster child provide a photocopy of a Final Court Order with the presiding judge’s signature and seal attesting to the legal guardianship by the covered employee.

*Applications submitted prior to October 1, 2010 will be rejected.
CHAPTER 375 AND COVERAGE UNTIL AGE 31
Children ages 23 through 26 who are currently enrolled for extended SHBP/SEHBP coverage under the provisions of Chapter 375, P.L. 2005, must be re-enrolled during October for SHBP/SEHBP coverage as a child under age 26.

FIND OUT MORE
You may read more about this provision of the Affordable Care Act on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site: http://www.hhs.gov/ociio/regulations/adult_child_fact_sheet.html

Last update: September 16, 2010

 

GOV. CHRISTIE RECANTS CAMPAIGN PROMISE OF NOT ALTERING N.J. FIREFIGHTERS' PENSIONS

NJ.COM - September 21, 2010 - Gov. Chris Christie says he had to renege on a campaign promise to New Jersey firefighters not to touch their pensions in order to save their pensions.

During the campaign last year, the Republican told firefighters he would not "eliminate, change, or alter" their pensions.

Last week, Christie proposed pension and health benefits reforms that would raise the retirement age for public workers and require current employees and retirees to shoulder a substantially higher portion of their health care costs.

The governor says past promises made by other governors about the level of benefits "can't be kept."

The state pension system is underfunded by at least $46 billion. The health benefits system is underfunded by $76 billion.

 

NIST REPORT SHOWS CREW SIZE MATTERS
Study compared how long it took crews of three, four and five to handle the same tasks.

FIREHOUSE.COM - April 29, 2010 - WASHINGTON, D.C. - For years, firefighters across the nation have touted the importance of having enough crew members when they start to attack a fire.

Now, they have scientific research to back up their claim that size does matter when it comes to saving people from fires as well as making sure they go home after their shift.

On Wednesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released the results of an extensive study that used technology to determine how long it took for crews of two, three, four and five to handle the same 22 tasks.

"Four- and five- person crews were able to complete the 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a residential setting 30 percent faster than the two-person crew and 25 percent faster than the three-person crews," said Jason Averill, NIST fire protection engineer and the project manager.

NIST announced the findings of the study to members of the fire service attending the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute event in Washington, D.C.

Tasks included stopping at the hydrant, positioning the engine, conducting scene size-up, engaging pump, establish 2 in/2 out etc.

The data also showed that the largest crew was able to apply water to the fire 22 percent faster than two-person crews.

The small crew also encountered a much larger fire upon arrival than the five person team.

NIST also used its fire dynamic simulator to determine slow, medium, and fast-growth fires and estimate how the crew sizes would affect the exposure of occupants to toxic gases.

"Two-person crews arriving later (than the larger ones) would also likely find a significant portion of the general public incapacitated by the time of the rescue," Averill said about his findings.

IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger lauded the research, saying it will be used as a tool for fire officers across the country as they educate public officials.

"This is an extremely important document," he said. "Now, we have the technology and research to back up what we've been telling politicians who are cutting budgets..."

He said the research validates NFPA recommendations regarding crew size. Schaitberger said while he understands the tough economic hardships, reducing the number of firefighters, stations or apparatus is not the answer.

In addition to firefighter safety, the public welfare is at risk, he said, when small crews are involved.

NIST received a federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant to fund the project that involved only career firefighters. Researchers said the results could be similar for combination or volunteer fire departments that have crews in their stations.

USFA Administrator Kelvin Cochran said the document will be utilized by those who need justification for additional personnel, equipment or training. This will give officers something to back up their requests.

"We now have the technology, the science to prove what we've known for a long time -- it's very dangerous for a small crew to attempt an attack," he said.

A 2,000-square-foot, two-story building was specifically constructed for the study on the grounds of Montgomery County, Md. Fire Rescue training center.

Rooms contain cameras as well as instruments to measure toxic gases and temperatures The data is recorded on computers and other monitoring equipment located in a separate section of the building.

Each assignment included a truck and three engines.

"Our study is the fist to quantify fire service lifesaving and firefighting operations for a low-hazard residential structure including the effects of changes in crew size, arrival time and stagger on rescue and suppression effectiveness," Averill explained to the crowd.

Dennis Compton, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, called it a landmark study. "This can really help everyone," he said.

"It will benefit local decision makers tremendously as they work to determine and provide the resources necessary to adequately protect their communities from fire and other life safety emergencies," Compton said.

Watch some footage from the experiments. Credit: International Association of Fire Fighters


 

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