Christie Flips Script on Critics Expecting Doomsday Budget Address

By David Cruz

“I’m pleased to announce today that the commission has — with my support — reached an unprecedented accord with the NJEA,” said Gov. Chris Christie at the beginning of a budget address that even some Republicans here were fearing could mean curtains for Christie’s political fortunes. Instead, it turned out to be another case of the governor successfully changing the subject to the great consternation of his critics and maybe to the benefit of his still nascent presidential campaign.

“The governor’s good for that,” observed Republican Assemblyman Anthony Bucco. “He does a great job. He’s a great communicator.”

For starters, the governor’s definition of accord is, to put it mildly, generous.

“The attached ‘road map’ sets forth the … recommendations for how future discussions can take place,” says the document signed by the co-chairs of the governors pension reform commission and teachers’ union president Wendell Steinhauer, who even before the governor’s office released a copy of the so-called accord, was rejecting its characterization.

“There is no deal. Let’s be clear about that,” he said yesterday. “What we have been doing is meeting with the pension commission to work on ways to find a solution to the problem that happens to us every year.”

The report by the governor’s pension reform commission says major changes are needed to change the system from the transformational — “The road map calls for the existing pension plan to be frozen and to be replaced by a new plan. Both the existing plan and the new plan would be transferred from state ownership to a trust overseen by the NJEA” — to the constitutional — “To make sure that the state meets its obligations and the payment is enforced, a constitutional amendment would be voted on this November.”

But these are not new ideas. Some have been rattling around the State House since 2011 and ignore the major point made by a judge on Monday.

“What we know is that yesterday at 4 p.m. Judge Jacobson issued a 130-page scathing decision informing the governor that the law was that he has to make the payments,” said Hetty Rosenstein of the Communication Workers of America.

Nothing on the Transportation Trust Fund, education funding or any other big ticket items casting a shadow on the state’s economy, but on the national stage — where Christie is selling his Jersey success story — those truths would only prove inconvenient.

“I thought the speech was on point,” added Bucco. “I thought that the fact that the governor took a lot of time to address the pension issue was good. It’s an important issue. It’s certainly a huge issue in terms of a financial issue for New Jersey.”

For all the hand-wringing and political punditry of the last 24 hours, the fact remains that the budget process has just begun. Any number of things can, and probably will, happen between now and the end of June.