New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's ambitions for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 have run into a major roadblock with a promise by 16 unions that they are about to file lawsuits demanding that his administration pay more into the state's deeply troubled pension plan.
Christie, in turn, says he will push for a state constitutional amendment that would eliminate the debt over 40 years.
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told The Wall Street Journal
: "He obviously needs to get some things done before running for president, and part of that is the pension issue."
The Journal notes that New Jersey's pension program is $37 billion short of full funding, and its healthcare benefits for workers are underfunded by $53 billion.
A pension study group empaneled by Christie recommended last week that the state pension system be frozen, that current workers have pension funds shifted into a 401K-type investment plan and less-generous health benefits should be paid out, and Christie has endorsed the recommendations, National Review reports
However, some unions are opposed and are headed to court, with Hetty Rosenstein, director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), telling the Journal, "it's a legal obligation."
The unions already sued Christie over reducing state contributions to the funds in the 2014 and 2015 budgets, and a judge ruled that the state must come up with a 2015 payment of $2.25 billion, or $1.6 billion more than is contained in the state's budget plan, the Salt Lake Tribune reported
The Christie administration plans to appeal that decision.
Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, said in a statement: "This governor's continuing disregard for his own pension funding law leaves us no choice but to go back to court to resume this fight in court on behalf of hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers who make their full pension contributions and depend on the modest income they earn in retirement," the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts told the Tribune: "It's disappointing that the answer of some public unions to the fundamental and much-needed reforms proposed by an independent panel of experts and the governor is yet another lawsuit that ignores the basic math and reality of the situation we face, and that does nothing to solve the problem."
Tom Healey, chairman of the commission, told the Journal
: "We're at the edge of the cliff here."
Christie's presidential candidacy also is facing problems from the passage of a new state bill which would stop firms whose executives contribute to federal political organizations, including Christie's campaign, from receiving New Jersey pension funds, International Business Times reports
Democrat state Sen. Shirley Turner, who co-sponsored the bill, said, "this administration shouldn't be playing politics with the public employees' pensions," Tap Into South Plainfield (TISP) reports
Firms managing part of New Jersey's $80 billion pension fund have given over $7.1 million to the Republican Governor's Association and over $3.9 million to the Republican National Committee, TISP states.
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