Making Full Pension Payment Would Have ‘Incredible’ Impact On N.J. Residents, Treasurer Says

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TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s treasurer said Monday that the administration has reached out to lawmakers to comply with a judge’s orders to work together to restore a $1.6 billion to this year’s pension payment, but stressed that actually doing that would mean lots of budget pain for New Jersey residents.

A state Superior Court judge ruled last month that the administration and legislators must work together to come up with the cash, which Christie slashed last year to balance the budget.

Christie plans to appeal the ruling, and Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said they’re “quite confident” in their legal position that the state can’t be forced to make the payment. Labor unions, meanwhile, have argued the governor broke a contract requiring him to ramp up payments into the public worker pension system.

The treasurer’s office contacted lawmakers to “indicate our willingness” to review the state’s resources and unspent balances.… Read the rest

K-12 Aid Down In N.J. Despite Christie Promise Of ‘Historic’ Funding

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Gov. Chris Christie has touted a budget proposal that promises a fifth straight year of historic education funding for New Jersey. But an NJ Advance Media analysis of 10 years of state spending data shows that K-12 funding for school districts has actually dropped in the last decade when adjusted for inflation.

That aid, which can be used by districts in the classroom, is still recovering from major cuts in Christie’s first budget. With inflation factored in, K-12 funding in Christie’s 2015-16 budget proposal is more than $350 million lower than it was in 2005-06, according to the analysis.

“There is no question that in real dollars New Jersey school districts are receiving less support for public education,” said John Donahue, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials.

Christie isn’t wrong to say education funding has increased under his tenure, but this says little about where that money is going.… Read the rest

New Jersey Panel Proposes Major Pension Overhaul

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The day after a New Jersey judge ruled that Governor Christie must make up $1.57 billion in pension underfunding, the governor’s commission to study New Jersey’s pension system proposed a complete overhaul of the state’s pensions.

The overhaul would include: 1) freezing current plans and replacing them with “cash balance” plans; 2) spreading the funding for the current plan over several decades; 3) cutting back the state’s retiree health insurance provisions and using the proceeds to fund pensions; 4) shifting the burden of financing local education pensions to the localities; 5) enacting a constitutional amendment to insure that the state makes its payments; and 6) transferring the existing and new plans to entities controlled by the employees. The committee’s report raises many interesting issues, some of which I find annoying.

First, it’s important to remember how New Jersey got to this point.… Read the rest

N.J. Pension System Most Underfunded Of All 50 States

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TRENTON — New Jersey’s record of funding its pension system is the worst in the country, according to a new study by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.

That chronic underfunding has led to a deepening pension crisis and individual pension funds that could run out of money by 2027, officials say.

In a comparison of state’s contributions as a percentage of the annual required contribution, from fiscal year 2001 to 2013, New Jersey came dead last at 38 percent. Some states such as Connecticut, Montana, Maine and West Virginia exceeded required contributions.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the only states whose payments over that time frame were less than half of what was recommended. All but six contributed at least 75 percent.

“This study finds that although variation exists in (annual required contributions) … among states and other pension plan sponsors, i.e., cities, school districts, etc., most governments made good-faith efforts to fund their pension plans, and only a few severely neglected their pension funding responsibilities,” it said.… Read the rest

NJEA Assails Christie Budget

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Governor’s choices hurt economy, middle class

NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller delivered the following testimony at today’s hearing of the Senate Budget Committee in Paramus.

“Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Sean Spiller, secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association.

“NJEA and its members understand that budgets require difficult choices. After all, our members have to make the same kinds of tough choices when it comes to their own budgets, particularly in light of Chapter 78’s impact on their wallets. They have had to face the serious economic repercussions of increased pension contributions and mandatory premium sharing on health benefits while salary settlements with school districts have failed to keep pace with inflation.

“These are challenging economic times for the state as a result of policy decisions that elevated the desires of millionaires over the needs of the middle class.… Read the rest

In Reaction To PARCC Questions, Standardizing Testing Bills Pass N.J. Assembly

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TRENTON — The state Assembly today passed two bills related to standardized testing, including one that would require New Jersey schools to provide parents information about what tests their students take and how they will be used.

One bill (A3077) would require schools to answer many of the questions raised by parents leading up the debut of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

Beginning this fall, schools and charter schools would be required by Oct. 1 to tell parents what standardized tests students are scheduled to take, how the tests results would be used, how much the tests cost the district and whether the exam is required by the state, the federal government or both.

Information about how test results would be used must include whether the results may be used for placement in gifted and talented programs, grade promotion, graduation or any other school decisions affecting students.… Read the rest

Doing The Math: PARCC Tests Will Cost State 10 Percent More Than Before

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Biggest reason for increase is that 200,000 more NJ students are taking standardized exams; administering tests online helps reduce expense

More testing means more spending. And New Jersey this year will spend $28 million – a 10 percent increase – on statewide student assessments, led by the much-debated online PARCC exams that debuted this month.

The bulk of that spending is accounted for by the state’s contract with Pearson Education Inc. for administration of the PARCC tests. The company could earn $108 million over the life of the four-year deal.

The state last week released copies of that contract to media outlets, including NJ Spotlight, in some cases two months after the information was first requested under the state’s Open Public Records Act.

In a press briefing yesterday explaining the contract, state education officials said that $108 million figure in probably on the high side.

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Public-Employee Healthcare: The Sweeney Plan Vs. The Christie Report

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State Senate president asserts that his own proposal calls for nothing less than eliminating the conventional fee-for-service payment model

A pilot program that Senate President Stephen Sweeney put forward last month seeks to find savings in the ever-increasing part of the state budget that’s devoted to paying for public-employee healthcare.

That’s also the goal of a big section of a report issued about a week later by the commission of experts Gov. Chris Christie impaneled to study the cost of public-employee benefits, including healthcare coverage and pensions.

But the comparisons should stop right there, says Sweeney (D-Gloucester).

The report from Christie’s panel is simply looking to shift more of the cost of healthcare onto the employees through things like higher copayments and deductibles, Sweeney said, while his proposal looks to save on costs by changing the whole delivery system, such as ending the traditional fee-for-service payment model.

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