The pension system for New Jersey's public employees is dramatically underfunded.  A new study released by State Budget Solutions reveals New Jersey's pension plan is currently funded at just 33 percent.

Flickr User Keith Ramsey

"There's $172 billion that the state has promised in retirement benefits to public workers that it currently does not have the money to pay for," said Cory Eucalitto, the author of the report. "What that works out to is $19,366 per person in New Jersey just to cover that unfunded portion of the liability."

The report reveals that unfunded public pension liabilities pose a serious threat to state government finances. Eucalitto said the problem is simply too big to ignore.

"What happens when an unfunded liability grows like this is that the state has to kick in more and more to close the gap," explained Eucalitto. "The more money that you've got to put into the pension system means less money for education, health care, whatever it is that folks in New Jersey expect."

Part of the problem is that the state has not lived up to its end of the bargain according to the report. For years, New Jersey has failed to completely fund its pension obligation. A new law has the state working incrementally toward fully funding the system.

One suggestion in the study for a solution is to require future public employees to enter into a defined contribution plan similar to a 401k. The report doesn't suggest that those already in the system should lose any benefits they're been promised.

"These promises have been made to public employees and in many cases it's not their fault the state has completely failed to keep that promise," said Eucalitto.

In June 2011, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a public employees' pension and health benefits reform bill that he said at the time would provide savings to New Jersey taxpayers of over $120 billion over the next 30 years.


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