Christie Pension Battle Called a Test for 2016

Sunday, 27 Jul 2014 10:30 PM

By Greg Richter

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's push for more reform of public pensions may put him to the test as he considers a 2016 bid for the White House, The Washington Post reports.

In a story published Sunday, the Post's Karen Tumulty said Christie's "No Pain No Gain" summer tour of the state's coastal areas may have more impact on his presidential chances than his noted visits to early primary states.

The reason, she writes, is that sitting governors typically need to tout a success story in their home state. Christie may have trouble with that as he tells residents there isn't enough money to keep funding pensions.

"Promises were made that can’t be kept," he told a group in Long Beach Township.

An unexpected $807 million budget shortfall will force two annual payments to the states unfunded pension liability, Christie said. The payments are required under a 2011 law signed by Christie that he touted as a top achievement at the time, Tumulty writes.

But Christie says he is facing a battle head-on that previous governors avoided.

"The easiest thing in the world for me to do now would be just to say: 'The heck with it. I tried. We got a little bit. I couldn’t fix the whole problem, but I’m gone in three years,'" the Post reported him as telling a town hall. "I wouldn’t have to take the heat. I wouldn’t have people yelling at me."

Christie earlier this summer vetoed a tax increase, saying the state's high taxes are part of its problem. He warns that the state could go bankrupt if the legislature fails to cut benefits.

Public employees say they already gave up cost-of-living adjustments three years ago when Christie got a bill passed pension reform law.

"This battle has got to be different," Ginger Gold Schnitzer, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey Education Association, told the Post. "When Christie fails to make the [pension] payments, he’s failing to live up to his own commitments, and he’s acknowledging his own reforms were a failure."

The Star-Ledger reports that older state employees may already be moving toward retirement so they don't have to face the cuts. The number of workers who have retired in 2014 compared to the same period in 2013 is up nine percent.

But not everyone is convinced there is a mass exodus coming. State teachers' union spokesman Steve Baker told The Star-Ledger the numbers fluctuate, and though they are on the high end this year, they are not outside the normal range.

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