Legislators met for the Assembly Budget Committee hearing today. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that Gov. Chris Christie is making pension payments at higher rates and more consistently than anyone in the last 25 years in New Jersey.
“I am reassured from what I heard from the treasurer. This is one of the lowest gaps in the past three years and it’s not, as these gaps go, it’s not different than previous history of these gaps. When people are estimating a $34.4 billion budget, you are never going to have people be spot on. There is always going to be a difference. This gap is not unusual,” said O’Scanlon. “We have heard people complaining about these gaps over that past few years. We hear the same thing every time and somehow it works out so the administration builds budgets that are resilient enough to deal with any shortcomings and they had to over the years. They have done so responsibly so it doesn’t worry me in the least.”
O’Scanlon said that members of the administration are projecting growth so they don’t have to take the money from anywhere to fill any gaps if they are correct in their estimates. He said that if the administration is incorrect in their estimates, then they do have to find the money somewhere and they have been very effective going through the year managing spending. He said that he has not heard anyone complain that their budgets were cut mid year and they’ve dealt with the gaps — trimming here and there where perhaps money wasn’t going to be spent with lapses. O’Scanlon said that is how it works and it has worked very effectively under the current administration.
The administration is projecting a $34.4 billion budget to the penny is like landing a helicopter on a tall building in a wind storm, meaning that they will never be exactly spot on, said O’Scanlon. He said the administration has been pretty close consistently and any time that they have been off, they figured out how to deal with the difference. He said that when Christie first came into office, he had to fill a $2 billion gap and leading up to that, O’Scalnlon’s friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t seem to think any mid-year corrections were necessary.
There were downgrades coming from Wall Street and O’Scanlon said that those downgrades are more of a result of the policies of the past 10 years than the policies of last four. He said that Christie has, if anything, improved the outlook going forward. He said an examination of the reasons some of the ratings agencies give for some of those downgrades shows they’re not aware that the pension payments were going to ramp up. O’Scanlon said that if those companies they did their homework, they would find the legislators are on track to do exactly that and will be at the full pension payment in 2018, but until they get to that point, more pension debt is going to occur.
“That’s unfortunately the way that it has got to be because we can’t manufacture another $2 billion out of thin air without devastating other areas of the budget. Christie is making pension payments at a higher rate and more consistent rate than anyone in past 25 years of history in New Jersey. Those things will help us,” said O’Scanlon. “We do have a growing pension obligation that Christie has said that we need to talk about and our friends on the other side of the aisle said we don’t need to talk about it so you can’t on the one hand in all consistency say that we shouldn’t talk about our growing pension obligation and on the other hand complain about rating agencies and concerns. You can’t do both. If you are going to solve the one, you have to discuss the other. Christie’s door is wide open and no one has walked right through it other than Republicans.”