Yes, folks, New Jersey has racked up another dubious "first": It is the first state in the nation to be charged with securities fraud.
The charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission came because of misrepresentations the state made between 2001 and 2007 to bond investors. The state essentially hid from investors the sorry state of its pension fund.
The SEC said the misrepresentations began in 2001 when the state Legislature increased retirement benefits for teachers and general state employees. That, you'll remember, was a bipartisan effort that included then-Assemblyman Nicholas Asselta, R- Cape May and Cumberland, as one of the primary sponsors. The state didn't have the money for the pension increase, but why let that get in the way? Every year the treasurer certified the pensions were being funded. The misstatements continued until 2007, when the SEC got involved.
Here's where the SEC wimped completely out: There were no penalities imposed in the case, which was settled recently with a cease-and-desist order. The SEC also didn't name any of the individual state officials, bond underwriters or other professionals.
Why not? Why would we not want to publicly shame - if not otherwise penalize - those who cooked the books to the tune of billions?
As the SEC points out, "The state of New Jersey didn't give its municipal investors a fair shake, withholding and misrepresenting pertinent information about its financial situtation."
Well, let's hope those investors were reading newspapers. Because newspapers have been pointing out the fiscal irresponsibility of the state regarding its pension fund since at least 1996, when Christie Whitman refinanced the fund based on projections that the stock market would continue spiraling ever-upward for the next 30 years. Fact is, it was The New York Times that uncovered the illegal accounting gimmick in 2007 - not the SEC. Yet another reason why those folks who rail against the mainstream media would miss us if we were gone.