New Jersey doesn’t fare well in a new ranking of states’ fiscal health, but you probably guessed that.
According to the analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, New Jersey is dead last when it comes to paying its annual bills. The state collected enough revenue to cover only 92.2 percent of its expenses between fiscal 2002 and 2016.
With unfunded pension liabilities of $235 billion – nearly six times the state’s $35 billion budget – the Garden State’s future doesn’t look any rosier.
Lawmakers have had years to change course, but rather than reduce spending or enact pro-growth reforms, they’ve continued to tax and spend their way into the fiscal poorhouse.
These irresponsible decisions haven’t been made in a vacuum. The legislature has time and again bent to the will of the most powerful and influential interest group in the state: the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
New Jersey’s largest public-sector union, the NJEA has been the dominant political player in the state for decades. It draws upon hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to rig public policy to its own benefit. And it’s not above bullying and intimidation to silence its critics.
Just ask Ryan Curioni.
Ryan is a former teacher living in Lodi, where he serves on the Board of Education and helps run the family business, Curioni’s Pizza. For several years he has operated a blog that exposes waste, corruption and abuse in local government.
In May, Ryan wrote a post that drew the wrath of the NJEA. He shared information about Americans for Prosperity’s Know Your Rights Initiative informing teachers of their right to opt out of paying the portion of their union dues earmarked for union lobbying and political activities.
“The next day, all hell broke loose,” Ryan said.
Union members protested in front of his house and pizza shop. When he attended a City Council or Board of Education meeting, he would find his car tires slashed. He’s had at least 10 flat tires since the May post.
But the harassment didn’t stop there.
In June, the union filed a formal unfair labor practice ethics complaint against Ryan for his blog. They even demanded he reimburse the union for any dues the association may have lost as a result of his blog posts.
“We live in America, you would think that there was free speech, but apparently not if you challenge the union,” Ryan said. “For them to attack me the way they did, it was a clear attack on my free speech and my rights. It’s insane.”
Fortunately, the NJEA’s critics refuse to be silenced. The American Enterprise Institute recently released a five-part report detailing how the union has wielded its taxpayer-funded political clout at the expense of New Jerseyans.
The NJEA has long been recognized as the biggest political spender in the state, with $73.3 million in reported political spending at the state level between 1999 and 2015. But as the new report reveals, the union covertly spends more than 10 times the reported amounts to fund political tools like its communications and government relations divisions. This money helps protect the bloated pension system and block fiscally responsible reforms.
These millions of dollars are taken from hardworking teachers, who may not agree with the union politics they are compelled to support, and ultimately from taxpayers, who are forced to bankroll an organization at odds with their interests. It’s a system the American Enterprise Institute likens to “legal corruption.”
As the latest ranking of states’ fiscal health reminds us, the status quo is unsustainable. If New Jersey is to stave off fiscal catastrophe, then our elected officials, teachers and citizens will need to stand up to the NJEA, demand labor and pension reforms, and put an end to union thuggery and intimidation.
Erica Jedynak is the New Jersey state director of Americans for Prosperity.