Christie Chides Lawmakers, Hints at Tougher Pension Reforms Ahead

By David Cruz

On the day when his deficit reduction gambit faced a court challenge, Gov. Chris Christie was in Haddon Heights, where he mocked the legislature for cramming like college kids the night before an exam only to come up with what he said was their usual answer to budget issues — a tax hike.

“All the bills get passed in either June or December. You will see between tomorrow and Monday a couple of hundred bills passed, that they’ll put on my desk. Since January, I’ve maybe gotten two dozen bills sent to my desk,” he chuckled. “Let me guarantee you what’s going to happen, the same thing that has happened every time they have sent me an income tax increase in the nearly five years I’ve been governor. I will veto it.”

In front of a friendly — if not entirely enthusiastic — audience in an air-conditioned gym that still sweltered, the governor defended his controversial decision to cut payments to the state pension system as necessary and a way to start the conversation about further reform to the system.

“It’s always happier to give out the candy,” said the governor. “Everybody smiles at ya, and they’re real happy and they don’t yell and scream and they don’t scream at you and give you a hard time. They just say, ‘Thank you governor, that’s so great.’ I’d like to do that but that’s not what you elected me for.”

Christie said he will unveil new proposals for the pension program this summer, adding, “When I come out with my pension plan, everyone will hate it.”

The reforms could include — but not be limited to — an end to the defined benefit plans in favor of another, as yet unspecified, type of plan and a scaling back of what he called the state’s “Cadillac” health benefits.

“[It will mean] greater contributions by employees, greater contributions from the government over the long haul and it’s probably going to mean trying to continue to have really good results from an investments perspective,” he said, adding, “Ultimately we’re going to have to decide at what point do we cut off a defined benefit pension.”

It was a call for stiff medicine in front of an audience that included a lot of retirees but not many, apparently, collecting a pension from the state. Some union supporters waited to give the governor a piece of their minds outside but seemed to wilt in the heat as the governor drove on by.

For all the helter-skelter at the State House, the governor’s tone here today was pretty casual. That could be partly because he knows that, ultimately, he has the power of the line item veto over the budget, but it could also have a little bit to do with the fact that in New Hampshire and Iowa, nobody is talking about the New Jersey state budget.