New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he’s unable to lay off or furlough unionized state workers to help close an $11 billion budget gap.
Christie, speaking at a town hall meeting in Haddon Heights, said job cuts would trigger more than $300 million in contractually obligated raises for remaining state workers under a 2009 wage freeze agreement secured by former Governor Jon Corzine.
“I cannot lay off one state worker, I cannot furlough one state worker,” Christie, 47, said. “It’s an exquisite set of handcuffs.”
New Jersey’s budget was thrown off-balance as the biggest economic recession since the 1930s depressed tax collections and drove state unemployment to a 33-year high of 10.1 percent in December. The state workforce numbers more than 70,000, according to the state Treasury.
From the Star Ledger:
Calling it an “exquisite pair of handcuffs” as he tries to plug a huge budget gap, Gov. Chris Christie today said he must follow a controversial deal former Gov. Jon Corzine gave unionized state workers last year that calls for a 7 percent pay raise in the upcoming fiscal year and bars him from ordering layoffs before January.
Christie said he was “wrong” in previously claiming he would not be “bound by” the contract struck between unions and Corzine last June. Under the deal, a pay raise costing the state millions would kick in if Christie orders layoffs.
“My lawyers have now told me that I am bound by that deal,” the governor said after meeting local officials in Haddon Heights. “If I could stop it, I would, except the previous governor tied my hands. I cannot lay off one state worker, I cannot furlough a state worker until January of 2011. That was a great election-year deal he made for us. It is an exquisite pair of handcuffs he put on his successor, but I guess he didn’t think he was going to have a successor.”
Christie, who will unveil his proposed budget next week, has called for cuts to all levels of government — including the public employee pension system, drawing the ire of worker unions.
Soon after he was elected, Christie said he was considering invoking emergency powers to break the deal. Today, he left open the door to “the exercise of executive authority” to address the deal but did not say exactly how that could happen. “I’m going to have to come up with some other ingenious ways to try to accomplish what I need to accomplish,” he said. “We’re going to do what we need to do as best we can, but I cannot just disregard the law, either.”