Budget collision course: Sweeney says he’s not backing down from his commitment to pension payments

By CHASE BRUSH

PITTSGROVE – Although Gov. Chris Christie says there is no Plan B and means to press forward with his proposal to grab funds from the public pension system to plug a budget gap, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) refused to retreat from his own position.

In order to compensate for lower than projected tax revenues, Christie wants to cut $2.4 billion in planned state pension contributions for public workers between now and June 2015.

Sweeney won’t sign on.

“Listen, there was an agreement to make the pension payments,” he told reporters at a groundbreaking ceremony here where he appeared with Christie.

“This was an agreement that he touted,” the senate president said, referring to the governor’s and senate president’s handshake three years ago on public pension overhaul, which included the governor making future payments to the system.

“I wanted the pension funded and he wanted healthcare reform,” the senate president added. “He got his healthcare reform. Workers are paying a lot more for healthcare than they were. What I got out of the agreement was that he was going to make the pension payment. He’s still taking money from the workers for their healthcare and he’s not holding up his end of the deal when it comes to the pension.”

There is considerable speculation about politics motivating the public stances of the two men, as Christie digs in on a commitment not to raise taxes as he eyes a potential GOP Preisdential Primary, and Sweeney examines his own prospects in a Democratic Primary for governor where he would need to shore up his damaged relations with public sector labor.

“This has nothing to do [with the governor’s race],” Sweeney said. “What this has to do with, I gave my word. Even though they [unions] fought me, I’m going to find a way to fund the pension.

“It’s me keeping my word,” he added. “It has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with… you know, people are going to like it or they’re not going to like it. …There’s no reset button where you can start over in life, like you can be 21 again and decide on a new career and move forward. Your path has been set, and it’s up to us. We’re obligated to live up to the commitment. The governor… there’s a way to do this and the governor doesn’t want to do it.”

Budget collision course: Sweeney says he’s not backing down from his commitment to pension payments