By Brenda Flanagan
“I’m hoping my pension’s there when I retire. That’s what I’m worried about. Or we’re leaving NJ,” said one New Jersey man.
This young teacher is among many who feel caught in political crossfire as titans clash in court over state payments into public employee pensions. They’re looking at up to $90 billion in unfunded liability, but today, the teachers’ union quit pension negotiations with the Christie administration saying it regrets signing on to a so-called “Roadmaps for Reform” that it could not support.
“And they keep coming after my benefits and they keep coming after my pension,” said the man.
Public worker unions have sued the Christie administration for cutting back on pension payments after he signed a 2011 pension reform bill, agreeing to fully fund the system — which he did, until revenues fell short.
In 2015, the governor made only 30 percent of a required $2.25 billion payment and plans to pay less than half the $3 billion payment called for this year. He’s arguing the pension reform bill illegally puts New Jersey in debt.
“You cannot pay what you do not have. You simply can’t do it and that doesn’t get to the core problem. The core problem is, this stuff is too expensive,” Gov. Chris Christie said.
“This is a bill that he signed. He ran all over the country saying it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The fact of the matter is that he was very proud of this until it came time to make the payments. And now the Legislature has come and said they agree the law is clear,” said New Jersey Director of the Communications Workers of America Hetty Rosenstein.
The Legislature last year did send Christie a budget with extra revenue — including a millionaire’s tax — which the governor promptly vetoed. Yesterday, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto — both Democrats — filed an amicus brief supporting the unions, and noting, “We want to make it clear to the Court that the administration’s refusal to make the legally required pension payments violates the law and disregards legislative intent…By appropriating the full payment, the Legislature met the requirements of the State Constitution. The governor can’t veto the constitution…”
Christie responded today with a tweet — “Call and Ask Them — How exactly do they propose we pay?”
“Instead of playing politics with the millionaire’s tax, pass an overall plan, saying, ‘Here’s where we’re getting the money from.’ Don’t push it onto the courts. Don’t be a friend of the court with your brief. Just pass your plan,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
The governor’s PR blitz argues too much state revenue gets spent on pensions, but a Quinnipiac Poll released today shows New Jersey voters support a millionaire’s tax almost two to one to pay for public pensions, but also want employees to contribute more.
“Next year I won’t make a raise. I’ll make less money because I’ll have to contribute more to my pension and more to my benefits, which I’m perfectly fine with doing, as long as it’s there for me when I get older,” said the man.
The New Jersey Supreme Court will hear the case in May, well aware that the clock is ticking down to a state budget deadline.