Pa., N.J. edge toward pension overhauls

     New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in Pennsylvania to campaign with Gov. Tom Corbett. The two are pictured in 2010. (AP file photo/Ralph Wilson

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in Pennsylvania to campaign with Gov. Tom Corbett. The two are pictured in 2010. (AP file photo/Ralph Wilson

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both want pension system changes, and they both may be disappointed.

    Christie hasn’t introduced any specific measure, but he emphasized the need for a pension overhaul in his State of the State speech.

    “If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension and debt service costs,” he said, “we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few.”

    Corbett, meanwhile, wants to change retirement benefits for future employees. In his recent budget address, he urged lawmakers, “Help your state. Help your school district. Help your taxpayers. Enact public pension reform before the end of this session.”

    Notwithstanding their talking points, political analyst Terry Madonna said both governors will have a hard time pulling anything off. In Christie’s case, Madonna said any plan he puts forward might suffer because of fallout from “Bridgegate.”

    “Who knows what he’s going to get out of the Legislature?” said Madonna. “Why would you give him anything while he’s in this precariously weak position?”

    Corbett, meanwhile, has to grapple with divisions in his own Republican Party. 

    “The governor’s idea has not been able to garner support sufficiently among Republicans to do it,” he said.

    Madonna said Corbett does have at least one thing going for him: Legislative leaders themselves say pension reform is a priority, which means they can be blamed if it all falls apart.

    The underfunding problem is enormous; states across the country pledged $1.38 trillion more in retirement benefits for public employees in 2010 than they actually put aside, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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