Police statewide are hailing a veteran cop in a North Jersey town who is fed up with “the current climate of public employee bashing” and challenges Gov. Christie to “do the right thing” with taxpayer-funded pensions.
Mt. Olive Sgt. Michael Pocquat
“In the end, all we have left is our name,” Sgt. Michael Pocquat tells the governor, in the weekly Mount Olive Chronicle .
“Let’s hope yours is remembered for [your] integrity and not for what you have slung so far in your race for political aspiration.” A New Jersey police chief who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “I have not seen [anyone] articulate the ‘truth’ better than this officer….This article should be forwarded to every media outlet and Mayor/Town Council in the State. This officer puts this whole mess into clear and concise perspective that is “right on the money.”
“I hope that people read this and realize that we are not to blame for [New Jersey’s] financial woes,” a veteran sheriff’s officer added.
“I thank him for speaking out and writing a very readable and intelligent article,” a municipal officer said.
In an opinion piece published in the Mt. Olive Chronicle , a weekly newspaper with a circulation of roughly 1,500, Pocquat says he finds himself “unable to sit by” without setting the record straight:
“Long before I became a police officer, the state of New Jersey enacted a law which required police officers and firemen to contribute a certain percentage of their salary into the state’s ‘secure’ pension fund,” the 22-year veteran explains. As a result, he says, followed the law throughout his career, paying 8.5 percent of his salary every period into the Police and Fire Pension System.
“I was not given the option to place my 8.5 percent in an IRA or other investment fund,” Pocquat writes. “Every paycheck since I was 25 years old had the 8.5 percent taken out of my pay and placed into the PFRS with the promise that the money would be there when I retired.”
State law originally required municipalities to match that 8.5 percent, he notes. So when Christine Todd Whitman become governor, the fund was flush, at more than $100 billion. Pension costs for police and firefighters “were funded at 104 percent, well into the future,” which he says “was a prudent and financially responsible plan that worked” because it “provided security for the families of these men and woman who risked their lives every day serving and protecting the citizens of New Jersey.”
Whitman, he says, proceeded to “raid that fund,” drawing down from it “indiscriminately” to pay for tax cuts and to balance the state budget, which gave “the false appearance that all was fiscally sound under her watch.”
To make matters worse, Pocquat says, Whitman got a law enacted that allowed municipalities to sidestep a match. Over eight years, that debt grew to $3 billion, while “the individual police officers and firefighters continued to have their 8.5 percent contribution taken from them and placed into the PFRS,” he notes.
“The state gambled for years, relying heavily on the returns from the stock market to cover the missing funds,” writes Pocquat, who holds a B.A. in Criminal Justice from Lycoming College in Pennsylvania. In the process, he says, “the public was lulled into a sense of false financial security.”
For anyone in Trenton “to bring this to light at this point would certainly mean political suicide, knowing that towns and municipalities would have to raise taxes to make up for their error in financial judgment and planning,” he adds.
Even though Pocquat says Gov. Corzine stopped the trend, urging towns to finally pay up, “the damage was done.” And when the bill finally came due, he says, major newspapers in New Jersey told the public: “Towns going broke over police and fire pensions.”
The misleading headline “made it appear that your police and firemen were bilking the taxpayers dry, when the truth is totally the opposite,” Pocquat says. “The politicians bilked your police officers and firemen [as well as New Jersey taxpayers] dry.”
State lawmakers let municipalities pay back the money in 20-percent annual increments. But Gov. Christopher Christie, after inheriting a fiscal crisis, “has chosen a similar route [as Whitman], but one with a more vilifying tone,” the officer writes. “He has again found the same victim: Your public employees.”
Rather than remind taxpayers how those same employees already bailed out the state years before, Christie is “going after” them again — for political gain, Pocquat contends. To do so, he says, the governor would “gamble on the future of those men and woman and their families who have served this state with honor and integrity.
“As of 2009, the pension fund should have assets of $112 billion to meet its obligations,” Pocquat notes, “yet it is currently sitting at $66 billion…. It is the largest unfunded liability in the country.”
New Jersey is the first state ever to be charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission, yet Christie refuses to “let the truth get in between a good, attention-grabbing headline,” which basically claims that “the public employee system is out of control,” writes Pocquat, one of 50 or so officers who cover the 32-square-mile township, which includes the massive Budd Lake, in northwestern Morris County.
Ten years into the job, Pocquat was assigned to the detective bureau. He made sergeant a year later. He has received several awards and decorations and was one of the first 9/11 responders to Ground Zero. He also is a member of the prestigious High Intensity Drug Trafficking Activity team (HIDTA), operated by the federal government.
“To blame your public employees for the abuses of the pension system is ludicrous at best, especially when our elected officials are the ones responsible for raiding the fund and then enacting the legislation on how and when to pay it back,” Pocquat writes.
He closes by directly challenging Christie “to do the right thing, as so many police officers and firemen strive to do every day for their families and the citizens of New Jersey.”
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