According to New Jersey Pension and Benefit Study Commission member Thomas Healey, “New Jersey is dead last in the Mercatus Center ranking of states by fiscal health.”
The state pension system bears a big part of the blame, according to the commission. It says the pension picture is bleak and the unfunded liability is ballooning by the billions.
“While some progress has been made it has not been enough,” said Healey.
“I think a message today is that the personalities in Trenton are going to change but the math is not changing. And if anything, the math is getting a little bit worse,” said commission member Tom Byrne.
Byrne issued a call to action for major reforms.
“We need to do it before the pension system becomes the Pacman that ate the both the rest of the state budget in terms of discretionary spending at least and ate the retirement security of so many individuals, 800,000 New Jerseyans, who depend on the pension system,” said Byrne.
Gov. Chris Christie said New Jersey public employees are among the highest paid in the nation and says some have top-tier insurance thanks to taxpayers. But, Christie says reform should include transitioning to 401K accounts and a constitutional amendment that cuts health benefits and suspends agreements made in collective bargaining.
“It’s a reality and I don’t know politically given some of the positions the governor-elect has taken how he intends to deal with it,” said Christie.
An NJEA spokesperson said, “Gov. Christie had eight years to address the state’s pension funding failures, and he failed to do so. We look forward to working with Governor-elect Murphy to ensure that the state achieves responsible and sustainable pension funding going forward.”
Christie says New Jersey cannot tax its way out of solving the pension issue. And to Democrats: “I hope they have a ‘Nixon goes to China’ situation. I hope it’s that a Democratic administration, the Democratic legislature, can speak truth to these unions,” he said.
The governor took questions for more than an hour, condemning sexual harassment. But on Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore, he said the decision should be left up to the voters.
“I’m not involved in Roy Moore in Alabama and I’m confident to tell you that Roy Moore has called and asked for my endorsement,” he said.
But on Democrats called for Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to resign.
“It is not right to demand that John Conyers resigns and not demand that Al Franken resigns. The conduct is roughly the same conduct,” he said.
Christie also addressed a recent NJ Spotlight op-ed giving credit to former superintendent Cami Anderson’s reforms and the growth of charter schools for improving Newark’s education landscape and commented on the governor-elect considering a moratorium on charter school expansion.
“I don’t know how anybody could read that and say ‘let’s stop this.’ This is really bad. If he does that he will prove without question that he’s captive of the unions and that’s not good for kids, it’s just not,” the governor said.
Christie said he didn’t expect Newark to regain control of its schools during his eight years but reforms and choice paved the way.