Christie says New Jersey has to cut pensions for retirees to avoid bankruptcy

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Retired Stafford Township police chief Larry Parker questioned Gov. Chris Christie about his plans to chop public worker pensions instead of passing higher taxes on wealthy state residents.

Retired Stafford Township police chief Larry Parker questioned Gov. Chris Christie about his plans to chop public worker pensions instead of passing higher taxes on wealthy state residents.

STATE — Addressing a Jersey Shore crowd in which 200 protesting police and firefighters outnumbered Long Beach Islanders, Gov. Chris Christie yesterday asserted that New Jersey has to cut pension and health benefits for retirees or follow Detroit into bankruptcy.

“We have to pare back benefits,” said Christie, who promised to unveil a comprehensive plan by the end of August to cut pensions and healthcare costs for both retirees and current public employees.

“In the end, there will be a reduction in benefits. There’s no other way to do it,” Christie said. “Whatever I propose will be roundly criticized. It will not be easy, it will be hard and it will hurt.”

Christie’s message was not what the unionized police and firefighters and retirees — who criticized the governor for scapegoating them on the pension issue — wanted to hear.

Not after Christie raised pension contributions for uniformed personnel from 8.5 percent of salary to 10 percent, eliminated cost-of-living increases for retirees, hiked healthcare payments for current employees, and cut pension payments for those who took early retirement — and then refused to keep his end of the bargain by not making $2.4 billion in pension payments due last year and this year.

“People need to understand that our pension system is sustainable,” said Eddie Donnelly, president of the New Jersey Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, criticizing Christie for plugging the state’s budget shortfall this spring by unilaterally refusing to comply with the 2010 law he signed requiring the state to ramp up to full actuarially required funding of the pension system by Fiscal Year 2018.

Donnelly said it was Christie’s idea “for cost of living adjustments to be eliminated from our retirees and for our newest members to have their benefits reduced” as part of a 2011 package designed to ensure the future solvency of the pension system. “We lived up to that end of the deal. He refuses to live up to his end of the deal, and now he wants more from us.”

Tom Lombardi, president of New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association Retired Officers Local 600, said “it’s a shame that Christie has been creating the misconception that everybody’s getting big payouts when some of our older guys are getting pensions of $11,000 a year.”

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