New Jersey residents are evenly split over whether the state and its municipalities should reduce pension benefits for current government employees, according to a recent Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll.

Among 801 adult residents, 46% approve cutting pension benefits for current government workers while an identical percentage said they disapproved of reducing those benefits.

Yet the majority of those polled said retirement benefits for new government employees should change, with 61% in favor of placing new workers in a 401(k) type plan rather than a traditional pension program. Another 27% disapproved of replacing pension plans with 401(k)’s and 11% said they did not know.

At the same time, 78% of those questioned agreed that New Jersey’s pension costs have gotten out of control compared to 8% who believed the system is run wisely. Another 14% said they did not know.

In looking at health care benefits, 31% of those polled said government workers should pay about 10% of their health care premiums, 25% believe state and municipal employees should pay 25% of such premiums, 18% said workers should pay about half, 12% believe employees should pay nothing towards their premiums, 10% didn’t know, and 5% said they should pay more than 50%.

New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability is $46.8 billion and its unfunded other post-employment benefit liability is $56 billion.

Gov. Chris Christie proposed on Sept. 14 numerous pension and health care reforms to help the state and municipalities control retirement and health care expenses. The Republican governor seeks to increase the retirement age to 65 from 55, roll back a 9% increase in pension benefits, increase employee pension and health care contributions, and eliminate cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, among other changes.

The poll was conducted by telephone from Sept. 15 through Sept. 19. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%.

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