By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The governor reprised yesterday’s budget speech for the South Jersey audience of 500. And he defended his announcement yesterday of a deal with the NJEA on a new approach to pensions. The teachers’ union says he overstated what had been agreed to.
“We’ve agreed to a road map. Now, because this has been reported apparently a little bit carelessly, let me be clear here. I did not announce yesterday that we have agreed to fix every element of the problem. I said exactly what I meant, which was we agreed to a road map, a set of principles that we all agree on that the teachers’ union signed. The leaders of the union signed it along with the leaders of the commission. And the forms are pretty significant,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
What Christie envisions is shutting down the current teachers’ pension plan and replacing it with a new one, run by the union. There would be a guaranteed annual state contribution and less generous benefits for current workers.
“That makes a lot of sense to me. It puts the control of the money into the non-political people. It makes sure the pensions that have been promised to people are going to be paid to people. But for new folks, they have to have a plan that’s competitive like the private sector. Some type of cash balance, 401K type plan. We can’t any longer afford to find benefit pension systems. It bankrupted Detroit, it bankrupted General Motors, and it will bankrupt us,” Christie said.
To pay for a new system, Christie would cut back on public sector health benefits, which he described as platinum plus now.
“Platinum plus is really nice to have. Someone gets sick, it’s really great to have but it’s not what anybody else has. It’s certainly not what you have,” said Christie.
A second round of pension reform is clearly his top priority in New Jersey.
“We fix this one problem, New Jersey is going to be in great shape. So you gave me eight years to be governor. This is the one last big problem on the budget side that I’ve got to fix. The last one left for me to fix. I’ve dealt with all the other ones. And by the way, you know, taken all the arrows that come with dealing with those,” Christie said.
Republican insiders we spoke to here think this new approach to pension reform will play well politically for the governor. It shows he’s a problem solver said one, and it puts him on the side of the majority of people who don’t have public pensions and wish they did.