By Cleve Bryan and David Madden
HADDON HEIGHTS, N.J. (CBS) — Speaking for the 122nd time in a town hall format Governor Chris Christie vowed to veto tax increases in next year’s budget and made a case for future pension reform.
Christie was welcomed to the Atlantic Avenue Elementary School by teachers holding sings protesting the Governor’s plan to cut almost $2.5B from pension fund payments between this year and next year.
“We are here to let the Governor know that we are united against his changes in the pension funding plan,” says Martin Schoettler with the Haddon Heights Education Association.
His concerns about the pension fund were echoed by teacher Dan Fraga who said, “He’s really doing damage to state employees across the board, not just teachers but firefighters and police officers as well.”
Christie explained his rationale for paying less than what was outlined in the pension reform law he signed during his first term.
“This is about not making the payment for the past sins but we are making the payment for current liabilities,” said Christie who believes current retirees will at some point need to either pay some of their heath benefits or receive less coverage.
Christie got modest applause when he said he will line veto fiscal year 2015’s budget due next week in which lawmakers are adding $1B in tax increases.
Several hours after Christie’s town hall wrapped up, a New Jersey judge sided with the Christie administration and decided the state can drastically cut the pension fund payment due next week. But the one due next year may be another matter.
Judge Mary Jacobson decided unions do, in fact, have a contracted guarantee to the full $1.6 billion payment, but the state’s fiscal dilemma gives the Governor the right to cut it, in this case by almost $900 million.
Chris Bergos is head of the State Troopers Fraternal Association. He says, “The economic state of the state took precedence but we’re going to take a look at what we can do to ensure the financial security of our pension system.”
Christie released the following statement Wednesday evening: “This was one of the hard choices the people of New Jersey expect me to make, and I am pleased the court recognized the necessity and urgency of this decision so that we can provide key funding for our schools, our colleges, our hospitals and other essential services. For our state’s families who are already overburdened by high taxes, raising taxes even further would not solve a problem created by decades of neglect and irresponsibility.”
The union’s are considering an appeal, but given this has to be settled by Monday, they may forgo that route and focus on the next fiscal year when Christie has vowed to cut the payment again.