Andrew Biggs prepared a report for The Garden State Initiative that focused on the impact of more retirees than employees.
Nationally, unfunded state and local government pension liabilities remained roughly stable at about $1 billion from 1975 through 1999, but accelerated rapidly in the following two decades, reaching $4.0 trillion in 2020. The combined unfunded liabilities of New Jersey public plans have increased significantly as well, from $58 billion in 2000 to $186 billion in 2019. (page 4)
In summary, federal government figures demonstrate that New Jersey lawmakers promised benefits to employees that were larger than lawmakers were willing or able to fully fund. The New Jersey pension systems instead relied upon returns on risky investments to make up the gap. But, as New Jersey’s investment experience shows, risky investments pay higher expected returns than safe investments precisely because they are risky, even over long periods of time. This leaves only more conventional solutions available, which are both financially and political difficult. All New Jersey pension stakeholders — including lawmakers, public employees and retirees, and taxpayers — must carefully consider how the costs and benefits of pension reforms will be borne. (page 33)
The Garden State Initiative released a report on the state of New Jersey finances. You have heard it all before but what keeps being left out of these ivory tower pronouncements is the systemic corruption at all levels and in all corners of officialdom here that makes even the slightest improvement in our general fiscal situation a pipe dream. Here are some excerpts along with a few charts on the pension system, the last of which makes my point. ….. Focus on that last chart. Liabilities actually decreased over the last two years. Significantly decreased against all logic and reason. Did everybody take a pay cut? Did 30% of plan participants disappear? No. The actuaries just got told to lower liability values and like dutiful apparatchiks they complied.
NJ’s revenue is being produced by higher rates on a smaller tax base: New Jersey needs to ensure that the outmigration of high-income residents does not continue. Between 2008 and 2017, New Jersey experienced growth in the number of tax filers of 4.2%; however, growth in those making $500,000 or more annually was only 2.5% during the same time.
NJ’s public spending is growing faster than inflation, our population or job creation: Our state will continue to see specific needs increase, especially in public health, health insurance, and public safety. New Jersey already taxes residents and businesses more than most other states. The problem is not too little revenue; rather, it is that the state’s spending is growing at a faster pace than inflation and the state’s population
The cost of NJ’s public workforce retirement and healthcare is the key driver of escalating spending and taxes: What New Jersey owes employees and retirees is growing significantly faster than the underlying economy that must support this liability. This is not sustainable. Pension liabilities are growing faster than assets
Connecticut has opened the door for a statewide property tax that has no upper limit. It offers a “new” tax revenue source for states such as New Jersey that have failed to address their structural deficits and continue to live beyond their means. Many New Jersey homeowners refer to their local property tax bills as a second mortgage, since the burden often rivals or exceeds the monthly payments on their home purchase.
A review of New Jersey’s modern history of taxes shows citizens should rightly be concerned.
Our state enacted a personal income tax in 1976 to support public schools and provide property tax relief. The tax began with a simple two-rate structure consisting of a 2.0% rate on income below $20,000 and a 2.5% rate on income above $20,000. In 45 years, 8 brackets have been introduced without any substantive update to account for inflation, making this more burdensome over time. The only meaningful change has been to establish a new top rate of 10.75%, the 3rd highest in the nation.