NJ Sen Prez Threatens Government Shutdown [AUDIO]
This year could see a repeat of 2006 when New Jersey's state government operations shut down because a budget deal wasn't reached by the constitutionally mandated midnight June 30 deadline.
The top Democrat in the legislature is warning of another shut down this year if Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) doesn't make the full payment into the public worker pension system as required by law.
"The pension payment has got to be made or if we have to shut government down we will," said State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) in a phone interview yesterday. "To let everyone know where I stand, that payment has to be made in order for this budget to be passed."
In 2011, Christie and Democratic leaders reached a bi-partisan agreement to pass a law to increase pension payments by 1/7th of the actually required payment every year until a full payment is made every year after that. This year, the state is on the hook for a roughly $2.6 billion payment.
In his State of the State Address last week, Christie said a conversation has to be had about changes to the pension system so the state can afford to fund important things like education. Sweeney said he wants to fund vital programs too, but the state has to keep its promise to public employees by funding their pensions.
According to Sweeney, members of the State Senate Budget Committee will have a lot of free time on their hands this spring if the governor doesn't include the full payment in the budget he'll propose next month.
"If he does not put that in from the beginning, we will not have a hearing until he does," vowed Sweeney. "If we have to we will get into that kind of a fight. I hope we don't. This is not a threat."
"The governor means exactly what he said at the State of the State: we need to have a conversation about changes to our pension system so that we can afford the priorities we all agree are important," wrote a Christie spokesman in an emailed response to Sweeney's comment.