The public employee pension and health benefit reforms enacted in 2011 will be a major issue in this year's gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey.

Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

Gov. Chris Christie fought tooth and nail for reforms while his Democratic challenger State Sen. Barbara Buono voted against the bill.

"By daring to be bold and take on the risks of addressing the big issues, we are doing what was once unimaginable; saving billions of dollars for taxpayers, fixing these systems in order to save them, and providing real, long-term fiscal stability for future generations of New Jerseyans," said Christie the day he signed the pension and health benefit reform legislation into law.

Pension reform alone will provide savings to New Jersey taxpayers of over $120 billion over the next 30 years, says the Governor. He estimates an additional $3.1 billion over the next 10 years from health benefits reform.

"I wasn't against pension reform, but the issue for me was there should not have been one bill with the pensions and the health benefits in it," explains Buono. "Everybody accepts that there had to be something done about the pensions. I felt that there should have been two bills instead of one and there's no reason why there weren't. The unions wanted to come to the table and offer give-backs and weren't allowed to do that."

State Senator Barbara Buono (Facebook)

The top democrats in the Senate and Assembly worked with Christie to get the bill passed in 2011. Buono says she lost her position as Majority Leader because she held her ground against the legislation. She insists her history proves she understands the importance of the issue.

"I've shown that I have the courage of my convictions in spearheading common sense pension reform in 2008 when I was chair of the budget committee at a time when it wasn't the popular thing to do," explains Buono. "I had unions picketing my office, but I advanced common sense pension reform that was going to save the pension system from collapsing under the weight if its own debt."

If you're wondering whatever became of that reform effort, Buono has an answer for that too. She insists former Governor and fellow democrat Jon Corzine refused to sign most of her legislation. Buono says as budget chair she held up the vote on that fiscal year's budget until there was a vote on her pension bills.

"They were more modest," admits Buono. "Let me tell you, they were controversial at the time."