|Governor Chris Christie takes questions from the media after appearing with Parsippany Mayor James Barberio in front of Parsippany Town Hall and announcing he is creating a commission to study further pension reform. Parsippany, NJ 8/1/14. Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger
NJ.com - TRENTON — As a special commission convened by Gov. Chris Christie examines potential ways to fix New Jersey's ailing public worker pension system, a new analysis says the state's employees pay more than the national average for state government workers toward their health insurance costs.
The analysis by NJ Spotlight notes that the cost of New Jersey's public employee health insurance coverage remains the third-highest in the U.S.
But it also shows the average New Jersey government worker pays more for individual health insurance coverage than public workers in any other state and the 10th-highest premium for family coverage in the nation.
In addition, the analysis shows New Jersey's state and local government employees are paying a much higher percentage of the cost of their individual health insurance policies than private-sector workers in the state have been paying.
The state's pension system — which governs the retirement and health care payments for thousands of public workers — has become one of the most controversial issues of Christie's second term.
In 2011, the Republican governor worked with Democrats to overhaul the pension system, which has been neglected by governors from both parties for years. At the time, the NJ Spotlight analysis says, the average state worker paid just 3.6 percent of health premium costs, while some teachers, police, and local government employees were paying nothing at all.
But the reforms and Christie and lawmakers ushered in called for the state to make annual payments to the system, while workers promised to pay more into their pensions and health care costs.
As part of the overhaul, how much an employee paid toward their health care would be based on their "ability to pay" — ranging from a low of 3 percent of the premium cost for those making less than $25,000 to a high of 35 percent for those earning more than $110,000 for family coverage.
Earlier this year, though, Christie cut billions in pension payments to balance the state budget after his administration missed revenue projections. He also said the 2011 pension reforms didn't go far enough.
Thus, he formed a bipartisan panel of pension experts to come up with suggestions on how to solve the problem. Last month, they released a report that said the pension system faces $90 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities — one of the largest gaps in the country. The commission is expected to release a second report, with recommendations, sometime this month.
Experts expect one suggestion the panel to make is to ask current employees to pay even more into their health costs.
Democrats have said they are unwilling to consider further reforms until Christie funds the system like he promised under the 2011 overhaul. They also accused the governor of forming the panel as political cover as he decides whether to launch a 2016 presidential bid.
Christie's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment today
This article appeared on NJ.com authored by Brent Johnson.