NJ’s Pension Payment Battle Continues
In his budget address on Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a $1.3 billion public employees' pension fund contribution for Fiscal year 2016. Legally he is required to pay in approximately $3 billion. In a pre-budget message briefing, State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff explained why the Administration settled on $1.3 billion, but Democratic leaders in the State Legislature were not persuaded.
"I think that we have presented a sound plan to meet our commitment this year and in the next year," said Sidamon-Eristoff. "It was the governor's priority to provide the largest, responsible and sustainable pension payment we could."
A bill signed into law by Christie in 2011 required to make incrementally increasing pension payment each year for seven years until full contributions were being made. This fiscal year the governor did not make the full payment and he did not plan to next fiscal year either. A judge ruled the full payments must be made, and the governor appealed the decision.
"By not making those payments he (Christie) is making the very same mistakes that he accused other governors of doing," said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees). "I don't think there's any creditor in the world who will come to you and thank you for making a part of your mortgage payment."
From FY 1995 to FY 2010, governors from both political parties contributed a combined total of $3.4 billion to the pension system. If Christie's FY 2016 pension payment is adopted he will have contributed almost $4.2 billion in the last five years which would include FY 16's $1.3 billion payment.
"There are scenarios where you could try to push it way above that amount, but that would be irresponsible, unsustainable and ultimately harmful to the state. We feel it's appropriate to try to identify a sustainable amount that represents a significant year-over-year increase and that provides sort of a foundation for moving forward in a reasonable, sustainable fashion," Sidamon-Eristoff said.
The top Democratic in the Assembly said it was wrong that the governor did not take into consideration that his pension lawsuit appeal could be rejected. That would force the state to pay almost $1.6 billion before June 30 and the full $3 billion in the next fiscal year.
"When you just had a court say that you owe $1.6 billion, you actually need more money," said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus).