Christie proposes reducing pension payments as he tries to confront state budget crisis

TRENTON – Confronted with an $800 million budget gap, Gov. Chris Christie vowed to make more changes to public pensions – details to come.

“We’re paying for the sins of past administrations,” Christie told reporters at a press conference this afternoon.

To deal with the crisis “directly,” Christie said he wants to reduce a $1.6 billion pension payment the state was scheduled to make before June 30 — to $696 million; and delay a $2.25 billion payment that was set for next year to $681 million.

“I always said we could do more and I’m proud of what we’ve done,” he added, a reference to pension and benefits overhauls his administration made during his first term.

But the current crisis demands more, he said.

The governor offered few specifics but reiterated the need for bipartisanship.

“I need cooperation from people in the legislature,” Christie said.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who on Friday proposed revisiting a so-called millionaires’ tax to plug the budget, did not approve of Christie’s suggestion today.

“The governor’s proposals are callous and yet another attempt by this administration to point the finger at someone else,” Sweeney said. “This administration has overestimated revenues for years.  And while they have asked the middle class and the working poor to suffer, they have rewarded the state’s wealthiest.  The people of New Jersey deserve better than that: they deserve real solutions and better choices.  As we have done in the past, Democrats in the Legislature will work to resolve this issue in a manner that is fair to the hard working, middle class people of this state.” 

Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, voiced skepticism.

“Obviously we need to understand exactly what this proposal is,” Schaer told PolitickerNJ. “It could have well been shared when the treasurer spoke to the budget committee days ago.”

Schear said what he knows about the governor’s plans appears to refute an agreement struck three years ago when Christie, Sweeney, and then-Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) created a pathway to make regular payments to the pension system “until we reached full payment.”

“The governor’s proposal flies in the face of that agreement, though it needs to be discussed and better understood,” the budget chairman said.

CWA leader Hetty Rosenstein savaged the governor’s proposal.

“Governor Christie said he fixed the state pension,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “He said our economy was the New Jersey Comeback and he’d stop relying on one-shot gimmicks. He said record-breaking tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy would create jobs. After five years of Christie at the helm, it turns out every single thing he’s promised has failed miserably – with a record sixth credit-downgrade by Wall Street to show for all his failures. 

“It’s time Christie realizes what everyone else knows: cutting taxes for the super-wealthy, while stealing money from pensions hasn’t worked yet,” the labor leader added. “And it wont work this time. At every turn, Governor Christie has chosen the path of economic instability, due to his wrong priorities and callous actions towards New Jersey’s working families. Since Christie is clearly unwilling to be a responsible actor, we call on the state legislature to step up and be the adults in the room.”

For his part, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) released the following statement:

“The governor’s plan is the result of five years of budgeting decisions that left New Jersey no room to handle any revenue shortfall, let alone a crisis. Those decisions were unfortunate and irresponsible, and if wasn’t for the fiscal responsibility of Democrats, things would be even worse. Sadly, we have no easy solutions to the problems created under this administration. Abandoning pension payments only make things worse down the road, and that’s unfair to taxpayers who rightly deserve and expect better from someone who vowed to fix the state.

“We will review the governor’s plan and consider the next steps, but are mindful of the need to resolve this crisis,” Prieto added. “Hopefully, we can all work together and realize that this problem won’t be solved with slogans and catchphrases, but with an honest look by everyone  – including the governor – at the state’s festering budget woes. Protecting millionaires while the working class pays the price for festering budget problems was never an acceptable solution. It’s finally time for the governor to understand this simple concept.”

Christie proposes reducing pension payments as he tries to confront state budget crisis