Former DEP Official Proposes Long Term Plan to Move Residents Off Barrier Islands – NJTV, 12/26/12
In Season 4, Episode 3 of Seinfeld, George Costanza pitches a “show about nothing” to the executives at NBC. The result was one of the best sitcoms ever produced on television. Recently a good friend of mine suggested that what we are witnessing in New Jersey is reminiscent of a “show about nothing.” With Governor Christie off to various states more than 50% of the time on his quixotic adventure for the presidency, and a Democratic legislature that is stymied by Christie’s veto; we certainly seem to be adrift in a “state of nothing.” That’s not to say that we don’t have problems that need to be solved; it’s just that no one can do anything about them.
Recently, Tom Byrne, member of the Pension and Benefit Study Commission, wrote about the need to seriously consider the reforms proposed by his Commission as the best alternative to save the NJ State pension benefits. He rightfully stated that the funding problems of the pension have been ongoing for many years. He also indicated that the NJ Supreme Court will not solve the underfunding by Governor Christie, nor can the State's budget absorb the costs of funding the pension into the future, "Soon the funding gap will be too wide for any solution that preserves meaningful benefits for public employees."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is raising the bar in the fight against climate change. According to InsideClimate News, "Starting next year, the agency will approve disaster preparedness funds only for states whose governors approve hazard mitigation plans that address climate change."
Without advance warning, Gov. Christie unveiled the final report of the Pension and Benefit Study Commission, "A Roadmap to Resolution: Report of the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study," in his recent budget address. Under the roadmap, both active and retired employees would see a dramatic reduction in health benefits, and active employees would face radical changes to their pension system
Magicians use misdirection to distract the audience from noticing the real trick. Likewise, politicians use misdirection to distract voters from the real issues.
We recently marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the most devastating storm in New Jersey history. The superstorm was also, to many, a harbinger of the many anticipated effects of the changing climate. Although certainly not the first, it was clearly a wake-up call to the kind of damage that could be inflicted with the more intense storms that are predicted with climate change.
Recently, Gov. Christie’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the pension lawsuits brought by various public employee unions. The stated grounds for dismissal were that it is unconstitutional for a legislative session to impose financial obligations on successive administrations. According to NJ.com, “The 2011 law shifted more pension costs to public workers, but it also gave them a contract right to full payments from the state budget into their underfunded retirement plans every year. Now, lawyers for Christie are calling that budget obligation unconstitutional, ‘void and unenforceable’ and economically reckless.”
The recent History Channel documentary “The Crumbling of America” posed the question: What happens when society neglects its infrastructure? According to the summary, “The U.S. infrastructure is collapsing and it impacts every single person in this country. In the first half of the 20th century, our bridges, highways, tunnels, dams, levees, ports, water and gas pipelines were built during the greatest age of construction the world had ever seen. But now, these steel and concrete achievements are deteriorating. More than 70,000 of our nation’s bridges are rated structurally deficient.
Gov. Christie’s unilateral plan to not fund the full payment to New Jersey’s pension plan has gained widespread notice. As he stated in his press conference, "We will not make the payments that are applied to the sins of the past." The governor is a master at blaming others for problems in his administration. When his overly optimistic revenue projections fell short, it was easy to blame the federal government’s income tax changes. For four years, most of New Jersey’s economic problems were blamed on former Gov. Corzine. Now we are starting to see the governor blame public retirees’ pension and health benefits as the cause for the unfunded liability in the pension system.
Although environmental protection has been around ever since people realized they needed to keep their waste separate from their living space, today’s environmental movement traces its history to a more recent time.
The industrial boom after World War II resulted in explosive growth, often at the expense of the environment. These were highlighted in Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.” The college protests of the late 1960s, which led to the end of the Vietnam War, showed the baby boomers they had power to convince their lawmakers they had to address the egregious pollution caused by the industrial expansion of the ’50s and ’60s. At that time, we had rivers catching fire (the Cayuga River), rivers turning green from dye in Maine, needles and medical waste washing up on our beaches, smog in our major cities and many other environmental catastrophes. This was the genesis of today’s environmental movement.
In his FY2015 budget address, Gov. Christie spoke about the burden of the state pension fund. He said it has an unfunded liability of $52 billion. He also said that he is reluctantly contributing $2.25 billion to the fund, which is more than any governor has contributed in the past. Many people incorrectly believe that the public worker’s pension is a “gift” from the state. The fact is, a pension is an investment, with joint participation by the employee and the employer. It is a defined benefit plan, much like Social Security, rather than a 401(k), which is a defined contribution plan. It is also a contract between employee and employer.
Ever since the Great Recession of 2008, our country has been focused on decreasing the unemployment rate to acceptable levels. While significant progress has been made via economic incentives, some manufacturing returning from overseas, increased demand for housing, Hurricane Sandy reconstruction and overall improvements in the economy, unemployment remains stubbornly high. This is especially true when we realize that the unemployment numbers reflect only those persons looking for work – not those who have simply dropped out of the job market. In addition, the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.
In her book “The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving,” Leigh Gallagher makes a number of good points about the dynamic changes that are occurring in suburban life, the backbone of New Jersey’s residential land use. It is her contention that the millennial generation (born between 1977 and 1995) is forsaking the suburbs for the cities and that the newer suburban communities will suffer as a result. She cites a number of reasons, including changes in family dynamics, a desire to abandon cars in favor of mass transit and walking, and the “renaissance” of major cities.
Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are the largest generation in U.S. history. Research shows that up to 80 million people were born during this time period. This generation has had dramatic impacts throughout its history, and there will be major challenges yet to come.
I was a public employee for 35 years! I didn’t dream of working for the state when I was a child, but as a result of various career twists and turns, I ended up being a public employee for much of my working life. Most of my career as a public employee at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was exciting and rewarding. I had the opportunity to develop and implement many programs to protect our environment. Like most public employees, I believed that my efforts were meant to help the public and, in my case, to help the planet.
By all accounts, the No. 1 financial issue for New Jerseyans, at least those who own a home, is the property tax. Recently, former state Sen. Bill Schluter called for the creation of a constitutional convention on taxes in New Jersey (Times op-ed, July 12). He understands that this is the only way to bring meaningful change, given the political nature of our legislative and executive branches.
A recent national poll conducted by Stanford University found that more than four out of five Americans want to prepare now for rising seas and stronger storms from climate change, but most are unwilling to keep spending money to restore and protect stricken beaches.
Last New Year’s Day, Princeton Township and Princeton Borough finalized their consolidation efforts. While I applaud their courage, this represents only the second consolidation since 1997, when Pahaquarry Township merged with Hardwick Township. While our legislative leadership and governors have sought for years to save money by encouraging municipal consolidation and shared services, they have met with little success: In addition to 565 municipalities, we also have 603 school districts in the state, 729 fire departments and hundreds of police departments, numerous health departments and many other overlapping services.
Since Superstorm Sandy, we have been inundated with proposals on how to address rebuilding the coast, both now and in the future. Some of our representatives in the Legislature believe that the state needs to take a stronger role in the process. Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex), for example, wants to create “a state commission that would assume much of the authority for rebuilding the battered shore towns” .
Clearly, the biggest impact of Hurricane Sandy was the damage or destruction of homes. Even after two months, thousands of people are still homeless and many properties are destroyed. Climate change is something that will occur over many years. While we are starting to see the impacts today, the overall changes will be gradual and will occur in fits and starts.
This is a very difficult article to write. We have just suffered through one of the worst storms in the history of the state. More than 8.5 million people were without power, and even more important, thousands of homes and business were damaged or destroyed. Although I have recently written about our need to adapt to climate change, even I was not prepared for the destruction this storm brought.
According to a recent poll, 71 percent of New Jersey residents believe that “the possible effects of climate change and global warming were a concern.” In recent months on these pages, I discussed a report by the Climate and Environmental Change Initiative of Rutgers University and how climate change impacts such as more intense storm events as well as increased temperature and more frequent droughts will require us to rethink much of our present land-use and environmental policy.
Last month, I wrote about how we need to begin to adapt to the effects of climate change (op-ed, “As storms intensify, New Jersey must adapt,” Aug. 16). As I indicated, according to a recent poll, 71 percent of New Jersey residents believe that “the possible effects of climate change and global warming were a concern.” I’d like to address not so much what humans can do to stop the situation, but rather what we can do to adapt to the changes that many believe have already started.
It’s hard to turn on the news in the evening, or browse the internet, and not see images of severe weather events — floods, tornadoes, wildfires, drought, drenching rains and rising seas. Whether you believe in climate change or not, there is clearly something happening to our weather.
Many rural townships throughout the state have been faced with an onslaught of applicants seeking to turn agricultural land into solar power plants. In a recent talk, I likened the explosion of solar projects to the oil wells that swarmed over the landscape of western Pennsylvania in the early years of oil exploration. As petroleum moved us away from dependence on whale oil, solar is seen as a means to wean us from dependence on foreign oil. Therefore, many people believe, the more facilities, the better. Fortunately, solar energy does not pollute like oil and it also does not deplete the Earth’s resources. However, there are questions about where solar energy facilities should be located.
“There’s no place like home.” With those five words and three clicks of her ruby slippers, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, were able to return to her aunt and uncle’s farm in Kansas after her adventure in the Emerald City. While this happened only in a movie, the power of those five words is as important to most Americans as it was to Dorothy, the main character in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Underlying the message is a concept called “sense of place.” This term is best defined as the feelings that a person or a community has about where they live. “Sense of place is about the feeling that emanates from a place as a combination of the physical environment and the social construct of people activity (or absence of) that produces the feeling of a place,” said Peter Apo, a Hawaiian legislator.
I have been an environmentalist since the early 1970s, when, along with thousands of other baby boomer college students, I discovered the environmental problems associated with our post-World War II economic success. I have spent most of my life in the service of the environment during my 35 years at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
A Monmouth University poll conducted for New Jersey Future on Oct. 11, 2011, found that New Jersey residents rank “protecting the drinking water supply” as the highest priority for the state, even higher than “attracting businesses and creating new jobs.” According to Poll Director Patrick Murray, “What’s interesting here is that even when the economy is bad, New Jerseyans are still worried about the environment around them.” Unfortunately, this sentiment comes at a time when we are faced with unprecedented financial constraints at the federal, state and local level that inhibit government from being most effective in accomplishing that protection.
When we flush the toilet, waste is carried away through a system of pipes that are owned and maintained by a wastewater utility. Similarly, when we turn on the faucet, the water comes through pipes that are owned by a water utility. These services come at a price — we pay both wastewater and water utility fees, either to a municipality or to a private entity. Yet, for some reason, when the concept of storm water utilities was raised by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-South Orange), there was great reluctance to pay for maintaining our storm water infrastructure. Opponents referred to the fees as a “rain tax.” Does that mean that our wastewater fees are a “poop tax”?
Can we stop the flooding such as we have recently endured in the state? The simple answer is: No. Typically, the average annual rainfall for New Jersey is 47 inches, but during the three-month period from July 8 to Oct. 5, the state averaged more than 27 inches of rain, according to the U.S. Weather Service. And August and September of this year were two of the rainiest months in recorded history.