New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's plan to roll back public pension benefits has opened a new front in his war with the country's most powerful unions.
On Monday, Christie, a rising GOP star, released a proposal to reduce benefits and increase employee contributions, claiming that the cuts will help solve New Jersey's budget crisis and possibly save the very same pensions he wants to cut.
But unions are screaming foul, saying the state cut a deal years ago that current leaders should honor.
Christie's plan would repeal a 9 percent increase in benefits approved in 2001 and eliminate the automatic cost of living adjustment. The plan would also raise the retirement age to 65 from 60 and reduce pension payouts to future retirees and require retirees to contribute more to their pensions – a move that Christie says will save the pensions.
"The simple fact is, the system is completely out of control," Christie told Fox News. "And we are moving toward insolvency if we do not deal with the long-term obligations that the state has."
"Now I know there are some public workers who aren't happy about it today. But 10 years from now, when you have a pension to collect and health benefits to collect, you are going to be looking for my address to send me a thank-you note," he said.
Christie noted that the system is $46 billion underfunded on the pension side and argued that if the state did nothing but make contributions to the plan, the system would be $85 billion underfunded in 15 years. He also noted the state is already $67 billion underfunded on the health side.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said he supports pension reform but not Christie's plan.
"The state has to make their payments toward the pension too," he told Fox News. "When the governor says, 'Well, I'm not going to put any more money in the pension system because it's broke, does that make it any better?'"
Christie failed to make this year's payment of $3.1 billion because of the budget problems and has not committed to making next year's $3.5 billion payment.
"If we are asking employees to pay more, if we're going to ask everyone to step up, the disagreement right now with the governor and myself is it can't be a one-way street," Sweeney said." You can't ask everyone to kick in more and then you not pay anymore and make the problem worse."
Christie has been in a constant fight with unions since he took office and made clear his intent to cut government spending.