Wednesday, April 22, 2015

D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R





Poor Chris Christie.  Last week, he held several events in New Hampshire. This week, he already has "done lunch" with a St. Louis financier, a Repub donor and August Busch, the former chairperson of Anheuser-Busch, as well as addressing the 45th annual Conference on the Americas in Washington.

The guy who whines "my wife and I, who are not wealthy by current standards..." (because it's hard to get by on an adjusted gross income which falls just south of $600,000) still thinks he has a chance to have a chance to be the GOP presidential nominee.   But while he travels around the country to try to prove to GOP donors that he hates unions, workers, and the middle class more than does Scott Walker (formidable competition, there), New Jersey still is feeling the effects of having a singularly ineffective governor.   David Sirota (with charts from International Business Times/Hanna Sender), who should be famous for more than having known the late Murray Goldberg, writes

It was 2010, and Christie had just installed a longtime private equity executive, Robert Grady, to manage the state's pension money. Grady promoted a plan to put more of those funds into riskier investments managed by Wall Street firms. Though this would entail higher fees, Grady said the strategy would "maximize returns while appropriately managing risk."

Four years later, New Jersey has secured only half the promised results. The state has sent more pension money to big-name Wall Street firms like Blackstone, Third Point, Omega Advisors, Elliott Associates and Grady's old firm, The Carlyle Group. Additionally, the amount of fees the state pays financial managers has more than tripled since Christie assumed office. New Jersey is now one of America’s largest investors in hedge funds.

The “maximized returns” have yet to materialize.

Between fiscal year 2011 and 2014, the state’s pension trailed the median returns for similarly sized public pension systems throughout the country, according to data from the financial analysis firm, Wilshire Associates. That below-median performance has cost New Jersey taxpayers billions in unrealized gains and has left the pension system on shaky ground. Meanwhile, New Jersey is now paying a quarter-billion dollars in additional annual fees to Wall Street firms -- many of whose employees have financially supported Republican groups backing Christie’s reelection campaign.

This scheme was seen as dubious even when introduced. Sirota continues

Those who originally opposed the state's shifting of pension funds into hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, real estate and other “alternative investments” see the below-average returns as no accident but an inevitable byproduct of the strategy: The Christie administration has effectively taken money from retired state workers and delivered the cash to Wall Street money managers.

“All the leading players on the [New Jersey State Investment Council] were from the alternative universe and all of their decisions were driven by a political agenda and an investment ideology which had no relationship to facts on the ground. And the facts were that you simply couldn’t justify these investments on the basis of what they cost in fees to generate a dollar of new returns,” Jim Marketti, one of the few State Investment Council members to vote against the Christie administration’s transfer of pension money into alternative investments, told International Business Times. In 2011, Marketti warned the council that such investments would be “a roller coaster ride on which only the Wall Street professionals and insiders are the winners.”





Chris Christie knows where his bread is buttered. Anything but stupid, the governor knows how to leverage his influence. Sirota finds

As previously reported by IBTimes, campaign finance records show that employees and others affiliated with firms managing New Jersey pension money made $167,000 worth of donations to New Jersey Republicans since 2009. Employees of those firms have also donated more than $11 million to the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee. Christie is the chairman of the RGA and both organizations spent heavily to support his 2013 reelection campaign.

It's pretty slick, but evidently the governor is playing fast-and-loose with the law, given that

Despite federal and state pay-to-play rules restricting campaign contributions from employees of firms doing business with public pension funds, many of the donations were made around the time that pension investment contracts were awarded by Grady's State Investment Council. At least one of thosecontracts went to a venture capital firm after one of the firm’s partners made a $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey Republican Party. That sequence of transactions is now under investigation by New Jersey officials.





State workers (and women in need of preventive care) aren't the only people getting the shaft from Governor Christie. Now

NJ Transit wants to boost bus and rail fares by an average of 9 percent, starting Oct. 1, and eliminate some routes beginning in September, the agency said Monday.

The moves are designed to close a $60 million budget gap, the statewide transit agency said.

Fares were increased five years ago.  

 In 1988, Anthony Kennedy joined the Supreme Court; the St. Louis Cardinals became the Phoenix (now Arizona) Cardinals; the first night game was played in Wrigley Field; the awful ET was released to home video; Hussein won the Boston Marathon (look it up- April 18) Pan Am Flight 103 was downed over Lockerbie, Scotland; Michael Dukakis was tragically filmed in a tank. That was the year in which the gas tax was last raised in the state, which has the second lowest gas tax in the nation. As a result, transit riders have been called upon to repair New jersey's broken Transportation fund.  Thus

Since 2002, there have been four fare increases," said Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign senior New Jersey analyst. "Meanwhile, a key source of revenue to replenish the TTF, the gas tax, has not been increased in 27 years. NJ's transportation funding structure is unsustainable and broken. It needs a solution now."

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, criticized Gov. Chris Christie's administration about the TTF, relying on borrowing and a decline in support for NJT operating expenses from the general fund for NJT operating expenses.

It's essentially a shell game being run by Chris Christie- and the  results were predictable. A year ago, Mark Magyar of NJ Spotlight explained

Despite his promise to increase pay-as-you-go financing for the Transportation Trust Fund, Gov. Chris Christie has relied so heavily on debt for four years that the program will run out of borrowing capacity a year early, leaving the Christie administration without the funding it needs to pay for highway, bridge, and mass transit construction fifteen months from now.

Christie, who complained during his budget speech about the rising cost of debt payments, not only increased transportation debt by $1 billion more than expected during his first four budgets, but also borrowed money at above-market interest rates in order to generate an extra $250 million in up-front bond premium payments to replace New Jersey Turnpike toll money he used to balance his budget.

Really, calling this character a "bully" is too kind. Far from the truth-teller he still is portrayed as in some centrist and center-right circles, Christie has run his administration first to pander to the moneybags in the Repub Party, and secondarily to the anti-tax fervor in the base. Early on, he eliminated the millionaires' tax and has subsequently consistently cut services while giving handouts to corporations as fast at a dizzying pace.  The sooner John Ellis Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio finish him off as a presidential contender, the better off his constituents will be.







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