NJ business groups: Don’t write pension payments into NJ constitution
Thursday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will consider legislation (ACR-3) that could be a first step toward amending the state constitution to require quarterly payments into the public employees’ pension system.
In a preemptive strike Wednesday, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association held a conference call to express opposition to the idea.
“Think about the impact this will have on an already difficult budget process. We’re talking about several billion dollars a year and what happens is, if in any given year there is not enough revenue to make that constitutionally mandated multi-billion dollar payment New Jersey citizens we believe will face massive tax increases that will reach all, and I’m going to repeat ‘all,’ taxpayers,” NJBIA president Michele Siekerka predicted. “We believe we’d be talking about tax increases on a scale not seen in decades.”
If New Jersey had to commit so much to pension payments it might also be necessary to make cuts to important programs and services like health care, safety and education, Siekerka said.
“Why does anyone think this is not an obligation? That’s what aggravates the hell out of me,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Thorofare) at a press event Monday. “It’s a real bill. It doesn’t go away and I’m tired of people acting like it’s not our responsibility.”
Towns and counties have made their pension payments and only the State of New Jersey has been a “deadbeat” according to the Senate president.
Sweeney's proposed amendment would go before the voters in November.
The NJBIA has a powerful ally in its opposition the pension payment legislation. Gov. Chris Christie made it clear he didn’t support the plan when he appeared on the December edition of Townsquare Media’s ‘Ask the Governor’ program.
“This is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that anybody in the state’s proposed,” said Christie. “This is a $3 billion tax increase coming your way. Get your hands on your wallets because you’re the people they (Democrats) are coming for.”
At a press conference two days after Christie’s comments Sweeney accused the governor of getting his math wrong. He said the two are not $3 billion apart.
“The administration says, ‘Where’s the money coming from?’ Well, in your own budget projection, you’re putting $2.4 billion in or are you not doing that? Is that a farce or is it real? I based this off the governor’s projections. We’re $600 million apart,” Sweeney insisted.
That $600 million difference could be made up with an increase in the income taxes paid by millionaires in New Jersey, and that would be pursued, according to Sweeney. Christie has vetoed a millionaires’ tax hike four times since taking office in 2010.
Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.