Chris Christie prepares for new fight over worker pensions

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who late Monday signed a budget that achieves balance by reducing the state’s contributions to pensions, intends to reveal a new plan this summer to reform the state’s public-worker pension system again.

In a Monday interview with The Daily Caller, the Republican governor previewed his upcoming fight for pension reform: “This is an unaffordable system.”

Christie’s new budget cuts contributions to the state’s public-worker pension system from $2.25 billion to $681 million. He also vetoed the $1 billion in tax increases Democrats wanted instead of the changes to pensions.

Christie has been battling with Democrats and unions in New Jersey over how to balance the state’s budget and make up a more-than $1 billion projected shortfall. Required under law to have a balanced budget before the fiscal year starts Tuesday, Christie opted for pension contribution reductions instead of higher taxes.

Christie, in an interview, said he doesn’t know yet specifically what reforms he will call for, though he said he’s working to develop something that will be announced later this summer. He said everything is on the table.

“Look at what happened in Detroit, and in other places,” Christie told TheDC. “You know, these unsustainable systems eventually collapse under their own weight.”

“The folks who are receiving these pensions or hope to receive these pensions should be the first ones demanding reform so the system can be there for them when they need it,” Christie said.

Asked if there’s a lesson to be learned nationally from his latest round of budget negotiations, Christie, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, said: “I think the only lesson that’s really there that applies to the national level is you got to be honest with people.”

“I’ve been telling people since January, ‘Listen, we need to do more. We haven’t done enough,’” he said. “These costs are going to eat us alive.”

“And I think it’s time for the federal government, both at the congressional and executive level, to be really honest with folks too,” Christie added.

Asked if he thinks the country would be better served if Congress, like New Jersey, was required to pass a balanced budget, Christie said, “Yes.”

“It forces you to make hard choices,” Christie said of the state’s balanced budget requirement. “You know, if I could run a deficit maybe I wouldn’t make the hard choices that I’m making. But I can’t. So I have to make these hard choices. And I think, unfortunately, at the federal level they’re not forced to make those hard choices, and as a result, those hard choices are either deferred or completely delayed.”

Christie said the state’s “economic condition, while much better than it was four years ago, is nowhere near where it should be.” He blamed that on an “out-of-whack tax structure.”

“You know, I’ve argued for years for tax cuts,” he said. “The legislature won’t do it.”

Speaking of Democrats in his state, Christie said, “They complain that we’re lagging behind other states in terms of job recovery. Well, if you set up a situation where it’s more expensive to do business in the state, businesses are going to do more business elsewhere than they are going to here.”

Christie said the new effort will be “a second round of reform,” following the efforts he pushed through in 2011 that he predicted will save about $120 billion over 30 years.

“I’m going to spend time this summer just going out there and beating the drum about this,” Christie said. “It needs to be talked about. And it needs to be fixed.”

Follow Alex on Twitter