By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
In less than six weeks, New Jersey voters will elect all 40 state Senators and 80 members of the state General Assembly.
These 120 state legislators made the laws and spent the money that put the state more than $160 billion into debt, and raised our taxes during the last 10 years. Thanks to this gang of 120, we have more crime, higher tuition, insurance, and electric bills, worse education, shabbier and more crowded roads. They did so much damage to our economy that most of us now work harder to earn less money, when we find work at all.
If we still had ?government of, by, and for the people,? a tidal wave of anger would sweep most of the 120 legislators out of office this November. But if the rest of the state is like Atlantic? County, the same politicians will stay in office and have two more years to keep doing what they have been doing.
Most of Atlantic County, the part known as District 2, is represented by Democrat Jim Whelan in the state Senate. For roughly 30 years, Whelan taught swimming as a public school teacher in Atlantic City. He earns more than $84,000 per year working 182 days (36 five-day weeks) a year.
His salary, as with all public school teachers in New Jersey, is based only on his years of employment and how many college courses he took. The fact that dozens of qualified people with equal or better skills are ready, willing, and able to do the same job for much less money means nothing in public education. That is because the Whelan, like each of New? Jersey?s 103,000 public school teachers, pays roughly $1,300 each year to three unions (national, state, and local).
These unions use the $134 million they collect each year to influence politicians around the state (and the country). They demand and get much better pay, pensions, and health benefits for their members than anyone else gets for doing the same work. They also demand and get laws that don?t let public schools replace poor or mediocre teachers with better qualified or motivated ones.
These laws also give Whelan, like all public school teachers in New Jersey, time off with pay to attend all legislative sessions and committee meetings, while taxpayers pay for a substitute. Meanwhile, very few citizens who are not government employees can take enough time off of work to run for or hold public office.
Whelan doesn?t have to save for his retirement because his generous teacher?s pension will pay him more than $46,000 per year, with free lifetime health insurance ? far more than he paid into the system. Whelan also gets a second pension based on 25 years of other government employment including summers as an Atlantic City lifeguard, 18 years as Atlantic? City mayor and councilman, six years in the Legislature, and a job that Ventnor Republicans created for him when he was voted out as Atlantic City mayor in 2002.
Whelan claims that ?millionaires? are not paying their fair share of taxes in New Jersey. But I would need roughly $3 million in my 401k retirement account to duplicate the pension benefits that Whelan is getting.
Republican Vince Polistina, a civil engineer and in the state Assembly for the past four years, is running to replace Democrat Whelan as state Senator.
Will Polistina change anything?
Most civil engineers have very little work these days. Few private businesses need them for new construction in this economy.
But a handful of them with good political connections, like Vince Polistina, are doing very well. Polistina?s company gets roughly $1 million a year, about 85 percent of its business, from no-bid contracts with local governments and agencies. About 78 percent of that government business, plus a $20,000-per-year salary, comes from Egg? Harbor Township alone through its local government, public schools, and municipal utilities authority.
Much of Polistina?s other work for private clients is getting permits and approvals from various state and local boards and agencies appointed by politicians. Many of the local governments and agencies that give contracts, permits, and approvals to Polistina?s firm are run by pay-to-play politicians like Egg Harbor Township Mayor James ?Sonny? McCullough who benefit from the state pension system just as much as Whelan does.
Would these pay-to-play politicians pay so much money to Polistina if they thought for one minute Polistina would make real changes and bite the hand that fed him all these years?
(Reprinted from September 28, 2011 Current-Gazette Newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, http://www.shorenewstoday.com/snt/news/index.php/politics/16767-even-with-120-seats-up-dont-expect-much-legislative-change.html)
Somers Point attorney Seth Grossman appears on 1400AM talk radio 3-4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and on 92.1FM 8-9 a.m. Saturdays. For information see www.libertyandprosperity.org, email? firstname.lastname@example.org??or call?(609) 927-7333. Breakfast discussions are held 9:30-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Shore Diner on Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township.