NJ Governor Dumps Pension Promise, Shorts Required Contribution

NJ Governor Dumps Pension Promise, Shorts Required Contribution
May 22, 2014

Add Chris Christie’s name to the list of New Jersey governors who reneged on state pension promises.

Faced with an $800 million budget deficit and falling revenue projections, Christie slashed $900 million from a $1.6 billion pension contribution the state is required to make by June 30 under state statute.

“Our problem is we’ve made promises to people that we cannot keep,” Christie admitted in a news conference Tuesday.

Another Shortfall to Come

In addition, Christie plans to chop nearly $1.6 billion off next year’s scheduled pension payment of $2.25 billion.

“I’ve made the decision we’re not going to blindside our students, blindside our seniors, higher education or those who rely on the safety net the state provides in order to balance the budget,” said the governor.

Instead, Christie is diverting the money from a public pension system that already faces a shortfall of $51 billion, according to state Treasury figures.

Christie’s override of state statute with an executive order is a conflict likely to wind up in court. Meanwhile, the governor intends to get his way.

Reform ‘Not Making Significant Dent’

The governor acknowledged his vaunted pension reform of 2011 — which he once called his “biggest governmental victory” – is “not making a significant enough dent.”

Within the next month, Christie said he would propose a new round of cuts to pension and health benefits received by public workers and retirees.

During the news conference, the governor tried to absolve himself of any blame for the crisis. “I am not going to pay for the sins of my predecessors,” declared Christie, still eyeing a run for the presidency in 2016.

Christie Follows Other Governors

To be fair, pension funds were shortchanged by a succession of previous New Jersey governors — including Jim Florio, Christine Todd Whitman, James McGreevey, Richard Codey and Jon Corzine.

Yet Christie, a self-proclaimed reformer, has done little to curb pension abuses within his office and administration. New Jersey Watchdog investigations have found:

  • Louis Goetting, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, rakes in $228,860 a year — $140,000 in salary plus $88,860 in pension as a retired state employee.
  • Of 60 double-dippers in the executive branch, 19 were hired under Christie, New Jersey Watchdog reported in 2012.
  • A subsequent New Jersey Watchdog investigation last year identified 80 State Police retirees who returned to the state payroll full-time as double-dippers.
  • Adam Heck, the governor’s associate legal counsel, gets a $44,818 a year state disability pension in addition to his $110,000 salary.
  • Heck is one of 18 “disabled” state employees who collect salaries for working plus disability pensions because they supposedly can no longer work, New Jersey Watchdog discovered.

Perhaps the most notable pension indiscretion involves Christie’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. As Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, Guadagno made false and misleading statements that enabled her top aide to improperly collect an $85,000 a year pension in addition to his $87,500 salary. The story was first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in October 2010.

Mark Lagerkvist (mlagerkvist@watchdog.org) reports for New Jersey Watchdog, where this article first appeared.