New Jersey judges not subject to pension reform – court | Reuters

(Reuters) – New Jersey Supreme Court justices ruled on Tuesday that they are exempt from last year’s state pension reform.

The reform, which called for judges and justices in the state to increase their pension and healthcare contributions, violates the New Jersey constitution, the court found in a split decision.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said in a statement that he was disappointed in the court’s decision, which he said “will not be the final word on this issue.”

“The reforms we passed last year are essential to ensuring the health and viability of every one of the state’s pension systems,” he said.

The state Senate’s Republican leader, Tom Keane Jr., also blasted the court’s ruling.

“Judges should not be insulated from economic reality by a dubious claim that paying their fair share for the richest benefits in state government is an impediment to judicial independence,” he said in a statement.

Most U.S. states are changing their public pension and retiree healthcare systems after years of underfunding and other problems have left them with estimated unfunded liabilities of $1.38 trillion.

In June 2011, New Jersey enacted Chapter 78, which made changes to public employees’ retirement benefits, including the state’s sitting judges and justices.

But the New Jersey constitution says that judges’ salaries “shall not be diminished during the term of their appointment,” according to the opinion handed down on Tuesday.

The new law called for judges to boost their required pension contributions from 3 percent of their salaries to 12 percent over a seven-year, the opinion said.

Judges also would have had to more than double their healthcare contributions, from 1.5 percent of their salaries to 35 percent of the premium over the same period of time, the opinion said.

That would have left judges and justices effectively taking home about $17,000 less in salary, which would be about a 10 percent drop in their disposable income, according to the ruling.

Since courts sometimes strike down laws made by legislators and executives, protecting judges’ salaries from cuts can ensure an independent judiciary and “prevent those branches from placing a chokehold on the livelihood of jurists who might be required to oppose their actions,” the opinion said.

Three justices joined the court’s opinion. Two joined a dissent, saying that the majority’s decision was not supported by either the constitution or the deliberations of those who framed it.

The ruling does not affect judges hired after Chapter 78 was signed into law.

It also doesn’t stop New Jersey lawmakers from dedicating future judicial pay raises to increased retirement benefit contributions, as they have always done in the past.

via New Jersey judges not subject to pension reform – court | Reuters.

Bob Williams: The Real Pension Crisis

A new report by State Budget Solutions shows that the public pension picture is much grimmer than official numbers projected.

When the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) recently reported that public pensions were underfunded by $885 billion, citizens were astonished that the public pension system had reached historic levels of debt. That figure, however, does not present an accurate view of the whole picture.

In fact, according to State Budget Solutions, the average public employee pension plan in the United States is only around 41 percent funded, while total unfunded liabilities as of 2011 are roughly $4.6 trillion. Unfunded liabilities are actually more than five times larger than the official estimate.

The disparity in numbers comes down to unrealistic assumptions by the GASB, leaving a ridiculously large sum for the taxpayers to bankroll.

When calculating unfunded liabilities, the GASB ignored accounting standards used by economists that require that assumed return on pension fund investments be based on the fact that pension benefits are guaranteed. Public pension funds calculate future debt based on politicians’ guesses about the rate of interest investments will earn and how quickly they will grow. Although governments do not have to include pension debt in their budgets, taxpayers must make up any difference between pension fund investment performance and promised benefits.

State Budget Solution’s report uses fair market value and risk-free investment returns to determine that the actual unfunded liabilities are $4.6 trillion. That amount more accurately reflects the value of promised benefits taxpayers must fund whether investments perform or not.

The difference in numbers is important to not only economists but also to politicians and to the public at large. By understating the current pension debt, states overstate their budget health and make riskier investments that the state governments cannot afford. In addition, state legislatures do not take the problem seriously enough and procrastinate implementing reform.

Legislators must understand that immediate action is desperately needed. Without government action, states, counties, cities and towns all over America will go bankrupt. That means essential public services must be cut, dedicated government workers laid off, disrupting or eliminating public health, safety and education.

Aggressive pension reform is needed to avoid those drastic service cuts. Pension reform must include moving from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans, which are similar to the 401(k) plans offered by the private sector. Defined benefit plans guarantee specific levels of service regardless of cost, whereas defined contribution plans establish a fixed payment toward services. Instituting defined contribution plans would end the endless cost escalations of non-salary compensation. A move to defined contribution plans would reduce the risk to taxpayers, provide lawmakers with a reliable cost estimate for budgeting and give state workers control over their retirement funding.

Three cities have championed pension reform and done so without the prompt or push from a larger authority. Voters in San Diego and San Jose elected to enact pension reform that would save their cities millions of dollars and stabilize the rocky pension system. The mayor of Chicago has proposed a pension solution that includes a five-year increase in the retirement age, a 10-year cost of living adjustment (COLA) suspension, and a 1% yearly contribution increase over five years for current employees. These cities should serve as an example to the rest of the country, that reform can be accomplished.

Status quo or incremental adjustments are not options for solving this crisis. Drastic reforms, innovations and political courage are needed to put our states and municipalities back on the path to fiscal survival.

Bob Williams, President of State Budget Solutions, is a former Washington state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and auditor with the Government Accountability Office.

via Bob Williams: The Real Pension Crisis.

Krenzen Employees Join Kolar in Strike | FOX 21 News, KQDS-DT

Krenzen Employees Join Kolar in Strike

By:

Diane Alexander FOX 21 News, KQDS-DT

DULUTH – Auto mechanics at Duluth’s Krenzen car dealership have joined Kolar employees in a strike.

Both are part of the same union, fighting against a contract change.

Those on strike say they want to meet with their managers, put this whole issue behind them and get back to work.

“I believe they know well what it takes to get this settled and it doesn’t seem like it’s good faith going on here on their part. We want to have this settled, and we’re sure our customers want to have this settled,” said Don Birch, a Kolar technician.

Employees at Kolar have been on strike for nearly two weeks.

via Krenzen Employees Join Kolar in Strike | FOX 21 News, KQDS-DT.

Link

San Bernardino bankruptcy reignites debate over outsourcing city police and fire services  Joe Nelson, Staff Writer

Posted:   07/23/2012 08:48:27 PM PDT
The city’s decision to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection has reignited the debate about whether the city, as a potential cost cutting measure, should desolve its police and fire departments and contract with the county for those services. (Rick Sforza/Staff Photographer)

Special Section:San Bernardino

SAN BERNARDINO – The city’s decision to file for bankruptcy protection has reignited the debate about whether the city, as a potential cost-cutting measure, should dissolve its police and fire departments and contract with the county for those services.

Last week, the City Council declared a state of fiscal emergency and directed staff to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. It came a week after city officials said a $45 million budget deficit and cash-flow quagmire could leave the city unable to meet its Aug. 15 payroll.

Officials at the San Bernardino County sheriff’s and fire departments said San Bernardino city officials have not approached them on the subject of contracting with their agencies for police and fire services.

But some say the time has come for the city to seriously consider such a move, or at least rethink how it can slash its public safety budget to get its financial house in order.

In a budget report presented to the City Council earlier this month, Finance Director Jason Simpson and interim City Manager Andrea Miller suggested that the city initiate discussions with Cal Fire and other cities about establishing a fire district, with San Bernardino serving as the lead agency.

The San Bernardino Fire Department, which staffs 128 sworn personnel and 33 civilian employees, would comply with any direction given by the city, but it would also be poised to oppose such action, Battalion Chief Eric Esquivel said.

“We believe that our employees could do a better job if given the opportunity to continue providing the service ourselves,” Esquivel said.

Miller and Simpson also recommended in their report that the Police Department contract with adjacent communities for dispatch and other services. Among the cities that have already done so include Brea, Whittier and Maywood, according to the report.

San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy said Monday that his department already contracts with the cities of Fontana, Colton, Loma Linda and Grand Terrace for animal control services, and also provides animal shelter services for Fontana and Colton. He said he met recently with police chiefs in two other cities to discuss potential contracts with their cities for animal control services.

The Police Department also contracts with other agencies for use of its firing range and has a $1 million-plus contract with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for policing near San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, Handy said.

“We regionalize quite a bit. We can still do more,” Handy said. “We have to look at more creative ways to handle the issues we’re facing.”

Miller’s and Simpson’s recommendations are strictly suggestions and not necessarily a starting point for any real consideration, Acting Assistant City Manager Gwendolyn Waters said in an e-mail.

Waters, who is also a captain at the Police Department, said the city is more focused now on its bankruptcy filing and meeting its August payroll. Any recommendations in Simpson’s and Miller’s report will be considered at a later time.

San Bernardino attorney and Chamber of Commerce member Tim Prince has long believed the city should dissolve its fire department and contract with the county for services, but believes the city needs to retain its police department.

“The advantages to local control of a police department are that the police services can be tailored to the individual needs of the community, and the politicians can exert some pressure on problem areas so the police department can be more responsive,” Prince said.

Additionally, an autonomous police department tends to instill a certain level of community pride, Prince said.

“I think you can’t help but have pride of your city’s Police Department – something that’s uniquely your city as opposed to the countywide sheriff’s department,” Prince said.

Larry Gaines, chairman of the criminal justice department at Cal State San Bernardino, agrees that the San Bernardino Police Department should remain intact.

“I really think the city would be better off if it were to retain its police department because of its size and urban complexity,” Gaines said.

An autonomous police department, Gaines said, can more readily respond to citizen complaints about quality of life issues including speeding motorists, vagrancy and noise.

“If you transfer that to the Sheriff’s Department, it extends that line of communication through several more people before it gets down to the actual police officers working that area,” Gaines said.

San Bernardino, at 59 square miles and 210,000 residents, would be a tall order for the Sheriff’s Department, sheriff’s Deputy Chief Joe Cusimano said.

Should the city request a cost benefit analysis, the first thing the Sheriff’s Department would have to determine is whether it could absorb the Police Department’s 286 sworn officers and 172 civilian employees, Cusimano said.

“We have to have the size for that, and I’m not sure that we do,” the deputy chief said.

When the Sheriff’s Department absorbed the Needles Police Department in 1989 and the Adelanto Police Department in 2002, it was dealing with smaller agencies in rural desert cities whose resources were easier to absorb, Cusimano said.

City Councilman Fred Shorett said it may not be worth losing control over police and fire departments unless the city could achieve significant cost savings, but the council needs to at least consider every possibility.

He said he is open to considering sharing dispatch services or additional safety operations with another agency.

“I don’t think the people care whether it’s a white sheriff’s car or a black-and-white San Bernardino police car … They want a badge and a gun and someone who is able to go after the bad guys,” Shorett said.

Read more:http://www.sbsun.com/ci_21142274/san-bernardino-bankruptcy-reignites-debate-over-outsourcing-city?source=most_emailed#ixzz21ZLHtMHg

Link

NJ Supreme Court Rules Against Christie’s Pension Reform For Judges  Kevin-McArdleBy: Kevin McArdle  |  1 hour ago

The State Supreme Court this morning ruled that judges do not have to pay more for the pensions and health benefits. This is a defeat for Governor Chris Christie, but one he saw coming. Last year, Hudson County judge Paul DePascale sued the state claiming the new law requiring judges to contribute more for the pensions and health violated another law that says, once established judges salaries cannot be reduced.

Peter Dazeley, Getty Images

Christie argued that what judges pay for the benefits is separate and aside from the salaries. The High Court ruled 3-2 against the State and for DePascale. Christie has said that if the court ruled against him he would consider asking the voters in a November ballot question if they’d like to change the constitution to require judges to contribute more.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon was one of the sponsors of the pension and health benefits reform law. He says, “I’m not happy about it (the ruling), but we’re going to have to live with it and figure out now what impact it’s going to have on the judges’ portion of the system. Does it have any implications for the legality of our reforms for other entities? It does not.”

“While I am disappointed in the Court’s ruling, it will not be the final word on this issue,” says State Senate President Steve Sweeney. “The reforms we passed last year are essential to ensuring the health and viability of every one of the state’s pension systems. My goal from the beginning has been to protect both the taxpayers who foot the bill and the public employees who were promised a pension. No one should be treated differently. The pension system of our judges can go bankrupt just as easily as any, and perhaps even more easily given its current poor health.”

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. says, “The pension and healthcare reform law does not diminish judges’ salaries as cited in the state constitution. Rather, it requires that judges’ contributions for their retirement benefits and healthcare keep up with the cost of providing them. The judicial pension system is in dire financial trouble that will be a tremendous burden to the taxpayers alone without increased contributions from judges themselves. Every single state employee in New Jersey is governed by the pension and healthcare reform law we passed last year, and judges should be no different.”

Union Contract With CL&P Stalling On Staffing Levels – Courant.com

Disagreements in staffing levels are holding up contract negotiations between Connecticut Light & Power and two local electrician unions that together represent about 1,000 of the utility’s employees, union officials said Monday.

There are fewer people “on the property” now than there were after the October snowstorm, said Frank Cirillo, business manager for Local 420 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Waterbury.

The workers are split almost evenly between Local 420 and IBEW Local 457 in Meriden. The union workers — including electricians, cablemen, metermen, equipment operators and stock operators — have been without a contract since June 1.

“Although we are working without a contract, we are not playing games,” Cirillo said. “Union men are working. Our priority is the public.”

Staffing levels, broadly, are a concern not only for the union but also for public officials who are charged with enforcing the utility’s ability to swiftly respond to major storms, such as the October snowstorm and Tropical Storm Irene, which both left more than 800,000 Connecticut customers in the dark last year.

Since 2007, staffing levels for lineman at CL&P have fallen from 420 to 174, said Cirillo. The levels have decreased through attrition as CL&P employees left, and the positions we left unfilled, Cirillo said, adding that current staffing levels are a liability for the company if another major storm hits.

CL&P wouldn’t discuss ongoing negotiations, but commented that it is “working closely with our unions and bargaining in good faith as we try to reach an agreement that benefits both our employees and our customers,” according to company spokesman Mitch Gross.

No strike authorization vote has been taken, Cirillo said, but a walkout could happen if the negotiations don’t produce a contract that union members will ratify.

Separately, John Fernandes, a former president of Local 457 will take over day-to-day operations Tuesday of the group that represents about 1,200 workers. Fernandes, who has been a member of the union since 1998, will replace Richard Sank as business manager, following a vote earlier this summer.

The union local represents electricians who work at CL&P, GDF Suez, Norwich Public Utilities, NRG Generation, Wallingford Public Utilities and Yankee Gas Services Company, according to the union’s website.

via Union Contract With CL&P Stalling On Staffing Levels – Courant.com.

Link

Jefferson Parish teachers union calls proposed contract a ‘one-sided relationship’

The Jefferson Parish School Board will consider a template for teacher contracts Wednesday, further angering the teachers union which believes the move is intended to circumvent a collective bargaining agreement.

munch.new.jpgMeladie Munch, president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers

Although school officials have said they will continue to negotiate in good faith towards such an agreement, Meladie Munch, president of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, has her doubts.

“As the elected representative of teachers in Jefferson Parish, I can tell you that these educators disagree with that notion,” Munch said. “Teachers have been very clear about what they want. They want to see a new collective bargaining agreement because it allows them to have a voice in their profession and in their classroom.”

Board member Larry Dale, chairman of the board’s employee relations committee, said he was miffed by the union’s anger. If anything, he said, the union should be pleased that the board wants to protect teachers while contract negotiations continue.

“I was really kind of blindsided by this,” he said. “In the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, we wanted to have something in place for teachers so that they are no left in no man’s land. I don’t understand this kind of rhetoric.”

Munch said the document set to come before the board Wednesday night doesn’t come close to addressing teachers’ concerns. Consequently, she expects hundreds of teachers to appear at the meeting to protest, just as they have at the previous two board meetings.

The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at Bonnabel Magnet Academy High School in Kenner.

The proposed document would serve as a template for individual teacher contracts, ensuring teachers that their salary and benefits will not go down. It also guarantees such working conditions as daily duty-free lunch, uninterrupted planning time, advance notice of meetings, and a “fair and objective resolution of complaints.”

“It is designed to ensure that teachers have clarity and transparency about the terms of their employment,” schools Superintendent James Meza said. “In the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, this contract will serve as the agreement the school system has with its K-12 teachers.”

Munch questioned the lack of teacher input into the contract language. “Teachers have many more concerns than those listed on that sheet,” she said. “What is now being called an ’employment agreement’ does not come from sitting down and hearing the voice of educators. It does not come from working together. This is not an agreement; this is a one-sided relationship.”

The union’s contract with the School Board expired July 1, leaving teachers without a collective bargaining agreement for the first time in years. Last month, the board refused to extend the contract, saying it is in direct conflict with new state and school system reforms. As such, board members said they prefer to begin the negotiations from scratch.

Although the two sides have been working towards an agreement, it is highly unlikely that one will be reached before teachers begin returning to the classroom later this month.

…….

Barri Bronston can be reached at bbronston@timespicayune.com or 504.883.7058. Follow her on Twitter at BarriBronstonTP.

Link

Judge says Kane, sheriff guilty in retaliation case

A judge has ruled Kane County and the Kane County Sheriff’s Department are guilty of illegal retaliation against a union court security officer after the officer began filing grievances regarding work conditions.

The lawsuit involves a series of events in late 2008 and early 2009. It was during that time Michael Stuckert filed several grievances. Stuckert was the union president for the court security officers. He’d been denied sick pay for a doctor’s appointment because the doctor’s note didn’t have Stuckert’s name on it. Stuckert didn’t think that was fair. He also filed a grievance because court security officers were working through their lunch hours because of insufficient staffing levels. And he also helped a fellow union employee file a grievance for being denied overtime.

Related files

Unfair labor ruling

Shortly after Stuckert filed the grievances he was transferred to a duty that took him out of contact with most of the other union members. He was then investigated for having secondary employment. Stuckert was a DeKalb County Board member at the time, but he did not consider having an elected position a second job. Stuckert was suspended for two days for not disclosing the second job and then refusing to fill out a request for secondary employment when he was told to do so. Stuckert testified he made the sheriff’s office aware of his elected position during his hiring process, and it was not an issue at the time.

The ruling also says there was a meeting with Stuckert and sheriff’s department supervisors where Stuckert recalls being told that if he didn’t stop filing grievances, “things were going to get worse” for him. Supervisors who testified said they couldn’t recall if they made that statement to Stuckert or not.

However, supervisors, including Sheriff Pat Perez, did testify that they were aware of at least one other employee with outside employment who never filled out a request or was ordered to do so. There was also no evidence that any other court security employee had been investigated or disciplined for having a second job.

Based on the facts and testimony, Administrative Law Judge Elaine L. Tarver ruled that Stuckert’s testimony was “more credible.”

“Stuckert’s testimony was less evasive, more forthcoming,” Tarver wrote in her opinion. She said the supervisors “gave shifting explanation and inconsistent reasons for investigating Stuckert’s secondary employment. It is not mere happenstance that the (supervisors) investigated Stuckert after he became union president and began filing grievances.”

The impact to taxpayers beyond the legal costs of the three-year lawsuit are back pay with 7 percent interest per year to Stuckert for the two days he was suspended without pay. The county and sheriff’s department, which have 30 days to file exceptions to the ruling, must also post notices for 60 days acknowledging the judgment in Stuckert’s favor and promising no further retaliation against union employees.

San Bernardino may look to outsourcing, merging departments due to bankruptcy – San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO – Bankruptcy reorganization may lead to a literal reorganization of city government. Early proposals to restore the city to financial health include the outsourcing of some city functions or merger of city departments.

Potential moves include outsourcing Animal Control to San Bernardino County or merging Parks and Recreation with the Library Department.

With the city facing a $45 million budget deficit and a bankruptcy filing in the space of about one month, a Finance Department document from late June holds open the possibility of joining forces with the state or neighboring cities to preserve firefighting services.

As of Monday, however, there was no official comment whether any of these reorganization proposals would be incorporated into the short-term budget scheduled to go before the City Council Tuesday.

The City Manager’s office has been unwilling to discuss budget balancing details in advance of the meeting given the likelihood that whatever happens will hit city workers hard.

“I’m sorry but there are absolutely no specifics we can talk about yet,” Acting Assistant City Manager Gwendolyn Waters said in an email.

“No one knows what any of the specific plans will be until the Council votes on them and speculating would be disrespectful to those whose lives are involved,”

she continued.

In late June, however, the Finance Department released a budgetary analysis containing several ideas to cut costs and raise revenue, some of which have been rejected during prior years’ budget debates.

Waters cautioned that Finance Department’s report only contained suggestions and may not be the basis for

Among those ideas are a proposal to begin talks with CalFire and cities to create a joint firefighting agency in which San Bernardino would take a lead role.

The Finance Department analysis also broached the possibility of hiring San Bernardino County to take over Animal Control operations.

County animal control chief Brian Cronin said he has not been personally approached to prepare a plan for taking over the city’s animal control operations.

Cronin held open the possibility that other city-to-county contacts may have taken place, but acknowledged that he would be surprised if the county could assume the city’s animal control duties at a significantly lower price.

“I don’t envision there would be a big cost savings,” he said.

The Finance Department report also holds open the possibility of creating a “Community Services Department” from the Parks, Recreation and Community Services and Library departments.

The report also suggests merging Information Technology, Human Resource and Finance departments into a single “Administrative Services Department.”

Councilman Fred Shorett said he has not received details on what will be discussed, but said he’s open to talking about any proposal that may restore fiscal health to city government.

“I’m willing to talk about anything,” he said.

via San Bernardino may look to outsourcing, merging departments due to bankruptcy – San Bernardino County Sun.