Last week we noted that in what was a radical U-turn to what other public pension funds have been doing in recent years – most notably Calpers – the struggling New Jersey public pension system decided that instead of lowering its expected rate of return, it would raise it, from 7% to 7.5%.
The simple reason behind this odd increase in projected returns was an accounting sleight of hand which would allow the state of New Jersey to save some $238 million in pension contributions as a result of the higher discount rate applied to the fund’s liabilities. And with a pension funding level of only 37% for the 2015 fiscal year, the worst of any state in the US, New Jersey would gladly take even the most glaring accounting gimmickry that would delay its inevitable death.
Unfortunately, being the not so proud owner of the most distressed and underfunded public pension fund in the US is just the start of New Jersey’s monetary woes, and as Bloomberg reports, New Jersey’s fiscal situation is so dire that new Governor Phil Murphy has proposed taxing online-room booking, ride-sharing, marijuana, e-cigarettes and Internet transactions along with raising taxes on millionaires and retail sales to fund a record $37.4 billion budget that would boost spending on schools, pensions and mass transit.
The proposal which is 4.2% higher than the current fiscal year’s, relies on a tax for the wealthiest that is so unpopular it not only has yet to be approved, but also lacks support from key Democrats in the legislature, let alone Republicans. It also reverses pledges from Murphy’s predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, to lower taxes in a state where living costs are already among the nation’s highest.
Murphy, a Democrat who replaced term-limited Christie on Jan. 16, said his goal is to give New Jerseyans more value for their tax dollars; instead he plans on bleeding them dry. He has promised additional spending on underfunded schools and transportation in a credit-battered state with an estimated $8.7 billion structural deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
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