Governor Chris Christie is not known for his listening skills, and it appears that he is not even listening to himself.
Christie is known for rhetoric, and what he has said about the state's need for reform to the pension system and limit the state debt makes sense -- a lot of sense. Christie even said last week, "We can ignore it if you like, but it's not going away."
However, Christie's actions, or lack thereof, seem to be firmly in the "ignore it and hope it goes away camp." He has yet to offer specifics on his plan to fix the pension system. With yesterday's news that the state shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30 will grow to a staggering $807 million at the end of April, it is clear that the time for action was yesterday.
Further jeopardizing state employees' pensions and passing the cost on to future taxpayers is not a strategy bond rating firms endorse, especially in light of other bad budget news. It is clear that the time for action on pension reform is now. (Actually, it was yesterday.)
Christie proposed a $34.4 billion state budget in February, with $2.25 billion going toward the pension system -- the largest payment in New Jersey history. However, it is still short of the payments the state is required to make.
Gov. Christie has repeatedly failed to fully fund state pensions. The governor proposed canceling more than $240 million in expected pension payments to help balance this year's and next year's budgets.
Those payments will need to be made at some point. Delaying them means that they will only increase and crowd out funding for other services, services already facing major cuts. Citizens of New Jersey deserve fire and police protection, good infrastructure and a solid education system. All of that is funded by the state, and taxpayer dollars should not be directed away from those services because pension reform measures are not fully enacted by the Governor.
New Jersey should move employees from the current defined benefit plans to a defined contribution alternative. This would allow the state to keep the promises already made to public workers, take politics out of retirement security, maintain essential services and finally allow the state to reduce what State Budget Solutions calculated to be a $172 billion unfunded liability
Blustery talk is not what the Garden State needs to protect its retirees, current employees and citizens. They all need a plan and commitment to actual pension reform that ensures the state can keep its promise to retirees and continue delivering essential services to all citizens.
Bob Williams is the President of State Budget Solutions, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fiscal responsibility and pension reform. Williams is a former Washington state legislator and gubernatorial candidate.
Follow Bob Williams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StateBudgets