News from Trenton City Council and a report on New Jersey’s financial health add up to one conclusion: trouble in River City.
The Trenton City Council situation, of course, is related to council president Kathy McBride’s casual use of the anti-Semitic phrase “Jew down” during a city meeting.
Obviously one would expect more of a person in a city filled with people with various backgrounds, especially at a time when racial and ethnic tensions are rising.
But McBride, like all of us, is a product of our culture and susceptible to using derogatory terms that have been allowed to seep into our language in order to isolate others.
And with her apology and other comments, it seems plausible she had not fully understood what she was saying and how her words could be considered harmful.
The harm, however, comes from the reaction she and council members George Muschal and Robin Vaughn displayed. Rather than use it as a moment to reflect, demonstrate political responsibility, and start a conversation to promote social unity, they attempted to dismiss the matter by saying that it was just a regularly used phrase that doesn’t hurt anyone.
And by doing so, they actually demonstrated how such a bigoted phrase can fix itself into our language and perpetuate a stereotype and injustice.
That they got publicly spanked by Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, fellow council members, Gov. Phil Murphy, and local and national media was no surprise, and fitting.
What was a surprise was an unprecedented whooping from the full New Jersey Congressional delegation, who signed a joint statement and called on the council members to apologize or resign.
The council members have apologized, but the incident adds yet another stain to Trenton’s already blemished reputation — and leaves taxpayers hoping for something more from a council currently planning to give itself a raise.
Meanwhile, thanks to Truth in Accounting’s (TIA) new 2019 Financial State of the States report, the State of New Jersey gets another stain on its financial reputation.
The Chicago-based watchdog group, which has been issuing such reports for the past decade, lists states according to their financial health. “New Jersey has held its last place position since 2014 and now needs $65,100 from each state taxpayer to pay off the debt accumulated to date. New Jersey’s financial condition worsened by 7 percent from the previous fiscal year despite a prosperous economy. This is largely due to a $20 billion increase in debt related to unfunded other post-employment benefits, mainly retiree health care.”
The underfunded state pension system started when Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (1994 to 2001) borrowed money from it. Since then it has became a bipartisan practice to kick the problem to next administration.
Another bipartisan pension situation involved Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney’s plan that saw public employees provide concessions to their contracts only to see the state renege on its obligations to pay into the system.
Recently, New Jersey officials announced administrative changes that would result in lower costs for current and retired state employees — but only put a small dent in the overall project.
Gov. Murphy, who had served on a pension reform task force over a decade ago, hailed the actions as a move toward fiscal responsibility and touted his partnership with state unions to help make it happen.
Sweeney gave credit for the savings to a fellow senator and called the savings “the first down payment on hundreds of millions of dollars in savings on prescription and medical payments that will be produced through the Pharmacy Benefits Manager and Third-Party Administrator programs’ claims monitoring.”
But as NJ Spotlight noted, “It was no surprise that Murphy and Sweeney viewed the savings in different ways as the two Democratic leaders have been locked in an ongoing debate about the cost of public-worker benefits for well over a year.
“At the heart of their conflict is a strain on the state budget caused by an ongoing ramp-up in state pension contributions, which was set in motion by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The ramp-up is intended to address an unfunded pension liability that totals more than $100 billion by some estimates. But unfunded healthcare costs for retirees are also a significant challenge for the state, and that liability is estimated at nearly $100 billion. (The annual state budget is $38.7 billion.)”
So even without TIA’s report, the above numbers tell two stories. One is about elected officials leaving New Jersey taxpayers to pay for their poor management. The other is about Murphy and Sweeney needing to figure out how to get things working — or face a public spanking.