As Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $33.8 billion state budget Tuesday, he focused most of his budget address on plans for additional changes to New Jersey’s public employee pension system.
Christie said the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has agreed to a “roadmap for reform” to freeze the existing pension system and replace it with one the union would control.
“I know we can get this done. We have proven time and again that even when we look like we’re not going to make it work and that politics and partisan interests have won out, we flip the script,” Christie said during the address in the State House in Trenton.
Few details were available Tuesday on what that change would entail, and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto said he is wary of the plan.
“Somebody that’s midstream in pensions, that will be devastating to them. They have invested in their lives ‘X’ amount every year, and now you’re going to tell them that’s not going to be here,” said Prieto, D-Hudson.
A lack of action on further changes to the pension system will have dire consequences, Christie warned.
“If we continue to do nothing, spending on pension and health benefits will make up 23 percent of New Jersey’s budget,” he said. “And in the years ahead, that percentage will grow even larger, making it impossible for the state to do much else to invest in a better New Jersey for all of our citizens.”
Before considering more pension reforms, Senate President Steve Sweeney said the state must fully fund its contributions to the pension system, as ordered Monday by a state superior court judge.
To make that immediate payment, Sweeney said he will revive the idea of a tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest residents to raise enough revenue to make the payments required by law
“We’re at close to $2 billion if you do the millionaires’ tax. The judge said fix it. This is a way of fixing it,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
Other Democrats said they were disappointed that Christie did not talk about funding for the Transportation Trust fund, property tax relief, or unveil specific plans for creating jobs and boosting the state’s economy.