What Chris Christie didn't tell N.J. about pension payments: Opinion
Updated On: Mar 10, 2015
Gov. Chris Christie talks during the start of a meeting on Jan. 22 in Atlantic City. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
NJ.com - When Gov. Chris Christie praised himself during the State of the State address for making the largest contributions to the State pension funds of any governor in New Jersey history, that statement was true, but not accurate.
While Gov. Christie has contributed $2.9 billion (if he makes the reduced $681 million payment for FY2015), what he fails to be clear about is that he will have skipped $14.9 billion in required pension payments during the past five years as Governor, according to his own Pension & Health Benefit Study Commission's Status Report.
Former Gov. Corzine made $2.1 billion in pension payments while skipping an additional $6.4 billion required from 2007 to 2010.
In fact, Gov. Christie's $14.9 billion skipped pension payments eclipses the $12.8 billion combined missed payments of his five predecessors over a 15-year period from 1996 to 2010. That was a pretty important fact that he omitted from his State of the State address.
For the last three years Gov. Christie has traveled the country congratulating himself for his 2011 bipartisan pension reforms, including prominently mentioning it during his keynote address for Mitt Romney at the 2012 Republican National Convention. He then he failed to follow through on making the required payments.
For the last three years Gov. Christie has traveled the country congratulating himself for his 2011 bipartisan pension reforms.
As if there was some legal epiphany between 2011 and now that makes the law he and his attorneys had thoroughly reviewed and championed now unlawful, he has sent his attorneys to argue that his pension reform law of 2011 is unconstitutional and he shouldn't be required to make the agreed-upon graduated payments. The 2011 Chapter 78 pension reform law was Gov. Christie's solution to a persistent problem that governors in both parties ignored until he came along. He claimed to be the Governor that saved the New Jersey pension funds from collapse.
And his now lawyers argue, with orchestrated sincerity, that only half the 2011 pension reform law is unconstitutional -- the half where the Governor has to make larger payments. His lawyers have not argued that public employees should have their increased pension contribution rate reduced back to pre-2011 levels and their monies returned to them. Even the judge was surprised by this argument and asked if the Governor's lawyers believed the pension reform law was unconstitutional at the time they pushed for it in 2011.
This type of parsing of words by Gov. Christie while characterizing nearly 800,000 active and retired public employees as greedy is why many New Jersey residents are cynical of Trenton politics.
In many of the Governor's speeches he attempts to turn public opinion against public employees to support his positions of pension and benefits cuts. He fails to acknowledge that public employees are also residents and taxpayers of New Jersey and the backbone of the middle class. The 800,000 public employees become a group larger than 2 million when you add in their spouses and children who are directly affected by the Governor's "special tax" just for public employees.
According to a recent report by New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Jersey's five state-controlled public employee pension plans actually rank among the least generous in the country when considering the lack of retiree cost-of-living increases, how retirement benefits are calculated, and the significantly higher employee pension contribution rates.
Gov. Christie must take the necessary steps now to meet his financial and budgetary obligations here in New Jersey before he attempts to impress voters in Iowa.
Edward Buttimore of Cedar Grove is a former Administrator of Investigations in the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Criminal Division.