New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expressing optimism about overhauling the state's public sector worker pension and health benefit systems -- and working with an old adversary to get it done.

Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the February edition of Ask The Governor on NJ 101.5.
Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the February edition of Ask The Governor on NJ 101.5.

For years, Christie has been battling with the New Jersey Education Association, but during the February edition of Townsquare Media's Ask The Governor program Wednesday night, he praised the teachers union for working with his Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission.

"I'm really very happy that we have folks in the elected leadership and the appointed leadership at the NJEA who are willing to talk, and that's what we're doing," he said. "We have a lot of hard work left to do but there's an acknowledgement now finger-pointing is not going to work."

The governor said overhauling the pension and health benefit systems in New Jersey will be a difficult and significant challenge.

"We have solved most of the budget problems of this state, this is the last big remaining problem," Christie said. "We have 8,500 fewer employees than the day I walked in, in January of 2010. We are spending $2.3 billion less in discretionary spending than we did in fiscal year 2008...we have kept taxes level in this state for the last five years, yet we haven't cut education spending, and now if we can fix this health benefit and pension problem then we will have fixed substantially the budget issues in New Jersey, which hopefully would then give the Legislature the ability to be able to cut taxes."

The governor also said when changes are made, the NJEA will control its own pension program.

"It would no longer be a political issue and a political football," Christie said. "It would be managed like private sector unions do it every day."

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