Bond rating for New Jersey is now the second worst in nation
New Jersey's bond rating is now the second worst in the nation. While many taxpayers may think that doesn't impact them, it does. A weak credit rating will translate into higher interest rates when the state needs to borrow money, and it's the taxpayers who foot the bill.
State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff blamed history when asked during a pre-budget address briefing on Feb. 24 how the Garden State found itself in such a precarious financial situation.
"New Jersey has spent decades working its way into a very difficult set of circumstances," Sidamon-Eristoff said. "Decades of underpayment into the pension systems, decades of refusing to step up to the need for reform both in respect to pensions and health benefits left the state of New Jersey, on a bipartisan basis, with a huge legacy obligation that this administration inherited and has had to try to confront."
Gov. Chris Christie's budget speech was dominated by his call for the need to enact public employees' pension reform, something that is being met with stiff resistance from state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who partnered with Christie in 2011 to usher through an earlier round of reforms.
Sweeney had a different take on why New Jersey's bond rating is nearly the worst in the country.
In 2011, Christie signed a law that required the state to make one-seventh of its required pension contribution and then to increase the payment by one-seventh every year until the full payments were made annually. The governor did not make the full payment in this fiscal year and does not plan to make the full payment next fiscal year. A judge has ruled that he must, but Christie has appealed.
"When we did the pension agreement we focused on just the national average of growth and it would cover the cost," Sweeney said. "What he (Christie) said is we can't do it so we have to be satisfied being 48th in the country in economic growth and 49th in the country in our bond rating?"
The state was far better in those categories before Christie took office, according to Sweeney. But he said there is a fix.
"There's a way to do what other states in this country have done, including our neighbors, which is to recover all the jobs they lost since the recession. Plus, if we could be average, not be the superstar, but just the average, we'd have $3.3 billion more to deal with in the state's economy right now," Sweeney said.