New Jersey Democrats slam Gov. Christie's plan to cut pension payments

Democrats say Gov. Chris Christie should raise taxes on the rich instead of balancing New Jersey's budget with smaller payments to pension fund.
By Frances Burns  |  May 20, 2014 at 6:59 PM
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TRENTON, N.J., May 20 (UPI) -- New Jersey Democratic leaders accused Gov. Chris Christie of protecting the rich when he announced Tuesday he would plug a big hole in the budget with money that was to go to pension funds.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, said the governor's plan will only make the state's long-term fiscal problems worse. Democrats had urged Christie to raise income taxes on those in the top brackets.

"Protecting millionaires while the working class pays the price for festering budget problems was never an acceptable solution," Prieto said. "It's finally time for the governor to understand this simple concept."

At a news conference, the governor said a tax increase is not acceptable and also rejected cutting state aid to education or spending on Medicaid. He instead said $2.43 million in planned payments to cover the long-term pension underfunding would not be made.

"I made the decision that we were not going to blindside our students, we were not going to blindside our seniors," Christie said.

The state faces a shortfall of more than $800 million in the current fiscal year and an even bigger one in the year that begins July 1 because revenues have been below estimates. Rating agencies downgraded New Jersey's debt last month because of the problem.

Christie said the pension fund will continue to get the money needed to cover current employees.

"We will not make the payments that apply to the sins of the past," Christie said, adding his administration would not "make the hole any deeper."

Democratic leaders in the state legislature had urged Christie to raise tax rates for the highest income New Jerseyans. Christie suggested Tuesday they are engaged in "class warfare."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a former labor leader from South Jersey, stopped short of calling for a government shutdown if pension funding is cut. But he released a statement that blamed Christie for the budget problems.

"The governor's proposals are callous and yet another attempt by this administration to point the finger at someone else," Sweeney said. "This administration has overestimated revenues for years. And while they have asked the middle class and the working poor to suffer, they have rewarded the state's wealthiest."

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