New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered the creation of a New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission today. The commission is to develop initial recommendations for dealing with government workers' pensions and health benefits within 30 days.
The nonpartisan commission is also to review proposals by the state Department of Treasury to reform employee entitlements, look at other government entitlement reforms, and the history of the state's pension and health benefit system.
In 2011 Republican Christie, legislative Republicans and a handful of legislative Democrats approved a plan to reform the state's pension system. In exchange for reduced pension benefits the lawmakers agreed to ramp up funding for the state pension system over the course of seven years.
In the aftermath of a revenue shortfall in April, Christie announced he was breaking from the pension funding agreement so as to close the fiscal year with a balanced budget, as the state's constitution mandates.
He went further and said that he would not follow the ramp-up schedule for pension contributions in the current fiscal year, which started on July 1. He has said that even the 2011 plan would be too expensive for state government and push out other valid goals. Further, he said he would be proposing additional cuts to workers' pension benefits.
"The governor broke his promise to fund the pension system," Democratic New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said. "The fact remains that the problems will be fixed if he simply keeps his word and provides the appropriate funding. Until the governor decides to keep that commitment, there will be no further discussion between us on pensions."
Meanwhile, several state employee unions are suing Christie in state court over his decision not to make the $1.57 billion pension payment, promised in the 2011 agreement.