TRENTON, N.J. – As if GOP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t have enough political problems, he’s got a new headache: The state’s unions are suing him for breaking his own agreement to fund public workers’ pensions.
In a case to be heard June 25 in Trenton, the Communications Workers (CWA), the Fire Fighters, the Service Employees, the Teachers, the Professional and Technical Engineers, and a police association all say Christie did not make a required $900 million payment to the state and local workers’ pension plan. He wants the workers to shoulder the load, instead.
The catch, of course, is that the $900 million figure is the sum Christie negotiated with the Democratic-run legislature in 2010, saying the state couldn’t afford its scheduled pension payouts to retirees. New Jersey had not paid into the workers’ pensions for 17 years.
The unions seek to stop Christie “from plundering $900 million from the 2014 budget’s appropriated pension payment, along with his plans to slash the legally required $2.24 billion payment for fiscal year 2015 to less than $700 million,” CWA said.
“Christie has broken New Jersey’s economy. Now, not only has he broken his word by failing to make promised pension payments, he’s breaking the law in the process,” CWA New Jersey State Director Hetty Rosenstein said in a statement.
The CWA is the largest union of New Jersey state and local workers. When the legislature debated Christie’s pension plan, CWA mobilized more than 40,000 people to march through the streets of Trenton against it. “Workers have done their part and are paying more. Governor Christie needs to do his part by following the very law he touted and signed,” Rosenstein said.
“Christie wants to divert the required payment to the state’s pension system to fill the gaps in his troubled budget. And the governor said that if he loses the court battle, he doesn’t have any other ideas on how to balance New Jersey’s finances,” CWA added.
“In 2010, the legislature – with the approval of Gov. Christie – committed to make pension contributions on behalf of the members of” the police and fire fighters pension fund, said state Fire Fighters President Dominick Marino on the union’s web site.
“When this commitment was made, the Fire Fighters and police officers were mandated to pay more into their pensions. The Fire Fighters and police officers have paid the higher costs, faithfully since it was mandated and have ALWAYS made their required payments. Unfortunately the state hasn’t.
“Instead of doing so, recently the governor declared he would cut the promised contributions in violation of the contractual and legal rights of each member of this fund. This will have the devastating effect of the loss of investment return on the required contributions,” Marino added.
Faced with that ultimatum, the police and Fire Fighters’ fund trustees had no choice but to sue “to protect the trust fund and the rights of members who are going to collect from it.”
The pension payout controversy adds to Christie’s other political ills, even as the outspoken former prosecutor readies a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nod.
Despite his conservative policies and his clashes with public worker unions over pensions and teacher tenure, Christie is viewed with suspicion by the tea partyites and other hard right elements that dominate the Republican Party.
And then his national reputation took a nosedive after a newspaper investigation found that Christie’s then-chief of staff and his appointees to a bi-state bridge and tunnel board engineered phony lane closures on the George Washington Bridge to New York City, leading to a massive and historic traffic jam.
The officials ordered the closures – without his knowledge, Christie says – because the Democratic mayor of the city at the Jersey end of the bridge refused to endorse Republican Christie for re-election.
Photo: Communication Workers of America members gather for a protest over planned cuts to pension contributions by the state, in Trenton, N.J. Dianne Spence-Brown, front center, president of CWA Local 1033, joins other in front of the statehouse. Chris Pedota , NorthJersey.com,, AP