By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Legislative and Burlington County officials stood outside Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to extoll an item in the new state budget — a $200,000 appropriation to lobby the U.S. Defense Department if it threatens to close either this base or Picatinny Arsenal.
“As you know, the DOD is downsizing. Every base is threatened,” said Fort Dix Former Commander Col. Mike Warner said.
The state lost Fort Monmouth in 2011.
Members of both parties in Trenton say New Jersey can’t afford to let that happen here.
“Sen. Thompson tells me it’s the second largest employer in New Jersey. So imagine losing 65,000 jobs. I want to thank the governor for recognizing it and my colleagues. When you do a state budget, people say ‘What’s in the budget?’ You hear a lot of things that they’re just numbers. It’s not just numbers. There’s people, there’s jobs,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The money will go private groups supporting the two bases.
“They key here is that we’re being proactive and we are being organized, so we can save jobs and the joint base,” said Asm. Ron Dancer.
Yesterday, in his first public comments since signing the budget Monday, Gov. Christie warned the state is headed toward catastrophe if it doesn’t cut back a second time on public worker pensions and benefits.
The state’s top Democrat and chief Christie antagonist on this issue says he won’t allow a second round of pension reform to get through the legislature.
“He didn’t finish the first piece. How do you do a second line of negotiation when you haven’t honored your first?” Sweeney asked.
Sweeney faults Christie for not fully funding this year’s pension payment and for comparing New Jersey to Detroit.
“We knew it was gonna be very hard to do, but don’t start throwing out Detroit. If we are getting in bad shape or we’re going in the wrong direction, it’s because he has not owned his obliogation which is to make one-seventh of the payment annually,” Sweeney said.
Christie said public employees in New Jersey get Cadillac health plans the state can no longer afford.
“He’s making a villain out of somebody who’s not the villain now. I fought with these public sector unions since 2006 because I thought we needed to fix things. I honestly feel that we have fixed things and if he lived up to his end of the bargain here we would be in much better shape. They are paying 35 percent of the 35 percent of the health care plans. That’s a lot more than a lot of people pay,” Sweeney said.
So the new fiscal year may have begun, but the argument is the same as last year’s and it’s all about pensions and benefits.