A FIREFIGHTER WRITES: Now that the pension and health benefits bill has been passed, and Gov. Christie is taking bows anywhere he can find a camera, public employees throughout New Jersey are regaining our composure and, most importantly, our passion for the work we do. Because we don’t serve him or the lawmakers. We serve you.
Christie and his minions have spent considerable time and money painting police, firefighters and teachers as enemies of the state. The governor did more than legislate “reform”: He divided and conquered, pitting the “private” sector against the “public” sector – of which he, by the way, is a member.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are LIFE, LIBERTY, and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.” We who are on the front lines of defending these values aren’t the enemies. We are fulfilling a calling to you. We do it willingly and proudly. And we are not “selfish” by any stretch.
Those of us who assume the duty of protecting you and your family, and educating your children, so that all of you can feel secure in your individual pursuits, are still showing up for work every day and doing our jobs the best we can.
And that’s because, in the end, we are ALL the public. We pay high taxes just like you. The economy has hit us just as hard – if not more so now.
On top of all that, we’re out all hours of every day, including holidays, sometimes in the kind of weather that forces highways closed and people indoors, away from their jobs. In doing so, we miss our kids’ special events, the ballgames, and, too often, the kisses goodnight. If only we had helicopters to bridge the gap.
Dedicated teachers also are spending countless hours planning, creating exciting new programs, and giving your children – OUR children — life skills so that they will be able to pursue their dreams.
Public employees may have lost the right to bargain for benefits, but we have not lost the passion and desire to serve everyone from every sector, background, race, religion, sex, or political opinion.
The governor may call us privileged, but we don’t have the privilege of deciding whom to serve. There are no divisions to conquer – only fellow citizens to protect, save and educate.
At this point, only time will tell if these drastic moves will unburden the state debt, if property taxes won’t still go up, anyway – or if the governor and the Legislature will hold up their end.
It also looks like we’ll never get answers to simple questions: As taxes increased over the years, how much of the haul was put toward public safety? With so many having to pay so much, how were pension accounts drained? Where did all that money go, anyway?
In his State of the State Address, Gov. Christie held up a carrot and promised to make a payment toward public pensions and benefits if his legislation passed. That was a political and public form of blackmail. Police and fire departments across New Jersey are now reeling from layoffs and forced retirements of people who served their communities for years, mentors who could have educated the next generation on how to do their jobs more efficiently — and, more importantly, safer.
But the bill has passed and the dust will settle on understaffed departments that will continue to uphold our oaths. My hope is that the future brings a renewed sense of morale, thanks to the support we found not only among ourselves but from many of you.
Unfortunately, my bet is that taxes will still go up and the governor will have to find someone else to blame. Only this time, we can’t allow politicians to divide and conquer.
In your city or town, right now, there are selfless people who are doing all they can to make life better for themselves and for you – not grinding axes or hanging their heads. They are protecting you from criminals, they are entering dangerous situations to keep your lives and property safe, and they are teaching your children basic life skills.
We’ve taken the hit, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped putting you first. Now let’s see what our puppet-master governor does on his end.
Kyle Hughes is a Paterson firefighter, originally from Wayne, who lives in the city.