From the Star Ledger:
Once Gov. Chris Christie unveils his new budget plan for New Jersey in a Statehouse speech tomorrow, two big issues that have dominated Trenton will likely take center stage: taxes and retirement benefits for public workers.
The Republican governor and his allies have suggested cutting taxes and have hinted that public workers may be asked again to pay more toward their retirement benefits.
But Democrats who control the Legislature have balked at the talk of tax cuts and further pension changes, arguing that the state cannot afford to lose tax revenue because it is strapped for cash to pay its bills as it is. And public workers have given up too much already, they add.
Regardless of what happens, the new budget could have a drastic effect on New Jersey residents. The cost of education, health care and transportation programs is set to explode by billions of dollars over the next four years — and not enough money is coming in to keep them afloat.
The public employee retirement benefits issue has emerged again even though a series of changes in 2010 and 2011 raised the state retirement age to 65 and shifted more pension and health care costs to public workers. In return, the state agreed to pay larger sums into their retirement funds every year after many years of paying nothing at all.
Christie said recently that those state payments — rising to $2.4 billion this year just for the pension fund — severely limit his ability to accomplish other goals, such as longer school days in New Jersey.
“We need to have the conversation now about further changes to our pension system,” Christie said in his State of the State speech last month, sparking angry rebukes from unions and Democrats. “If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension and debt service costs, we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few.”