Christie on health and pension reform: Won’t sign one without the other

Gov. Chris Christie said today he will not sign a pension reform bill unless it includes a health benefit overhaul

Gov. Chris Christie said today he will not sign a pension reform bill unless it includes a health benefit overhaul as well.

The governor was responding to a question about Wednesday’s news that a deal on benefit reform had been struck between Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney.  The deal was stalled when Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver said her caucus had not yet signed off.  Members later said there is general support for the pension portion of the deal but health care is another issue.

“I’m unwiling to separate them, I want them cojoined,” the governor told reporters.

In Camden to discuss education reform, Christie was otherwise terse on the issue of health cane pension benefits.

“I’m not talking about pension and benefits,’ he said. “What I know is that it’s long overdue that we fix this problem. People who want to play politics with this issue do so at the peril of the taxpayers. …I’m not going to negotiate in public.”

Sources familiar with the negotiations said today Sweeney is fully aware of the governor’s veto power and has no plans to split the bills.  Support from Christie is integral to any reform, sources said, much to the dismay of some Democrats in both houses.

“Unless your option is to do nothing, then your only option is to cut the best deal you can with the governor,” the source said.

A spokesman for the Assembly Democrats did not immediately return a call for comment.

Meanwhile, sources say support in the Democratic senate caucus for the plan is dividing largely along geographic lines.

Senators in the southern portion of the state, where public sector unions do not hold the type of sway they do in the north, are lining up behind Sweeney, a source familiar with the negotiations said, while senators from the north are hesitant about angering organized labor.

“South Jersey Democrats have never had to rely on public employee unions, so for them the question becomes ‘who am I more afraid of an angry public employee union or an angry taxpayer,” one source said.  “The answer is a no-brainer.  It’s the taxpayer.  In the north, there is the feeling that unions are our friends and a critical part of our success and we can’t win without them.”

Sweeney likely needs no more than six Democratic votes for the plan, which has the blessing of Gov. Chris Christie, and by extension, the bulk of the Republican caucus.  The plan to overhaul pension and health has many Democrats nervous over agitating their base with legislative mid-terms less than five months away.  Many say they would rather hold off on passage of any legislation until the lame duck session in order to pull pensions and health care out of the debate come election time.

But their fear, legislators say, is facing five months of haranguing from Republicans over their failure to act on reforms.

At least one South Jersey senator facing a tough reelection battle says election or no election something needs to be done.

“I haven’t seen the details, but barring anything totally surprising and totally out of left field we need to reform pension and benefits,” said Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) who is facing a challenge from Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina in one of the few expected contested races. ” If you are afraid of being damaged in the next election you shouldn’t be in this business. I’m a public school teacher and many of my colleagues and supporters will not be happy with the plan, but that doesn’t change the reality that we need to address.”

 

Christie on health and pension reform: Won’t sign one without the other