TRENTON, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie on Monday dismissed a Democratic attempt to make a $300 million public pension payment as "accounting gimmickry" and blocked another bill requiring quarterly payments to New Jersey's nearly $80 billion retirement system.
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The vetoes are the latest in a long-running feud between the Republican governor, who is seeking his party's nomination for president, and state Democrats and union officials. Christie acted on the two measures as they approached a deadline after which they would have become law without his signature.
One bill required a projected surplus of $300 million from last fiscal year to be paid into the fund for the current fiscal year. Legislative Democrats cast the measure as a prudent use of state funds and indicated it would demonstrate a show of good faith to the state's more than 500,000 pensioners.
But, in a strongly worded absolute veto, Christie said the money that legislators were relying on was not in the budget.
"Instead of accounting gimmickry, the legislative majority should embrace reality and join with my Administration in a realistic discussion of necessary reforms to the pension and health benefits systems," Christie wrote.
Democrats were quick to criticize Christie over the veto. Senate President Steve Sweeney said it was the wrong move and making the payment now would be smart.
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"Every dollar we put in now saves three dollars in the future," he said.
Christie also vetoed a bill requiring quarterly payments into New Jersey's public pension. Lawmakers pursued the legislation in part to avoid shorting the fund in the future.
Christie says requiring quarterly payments represents an improper intrusion on the executive branch's prerogative to determine timing. He also argued that the system needs more reform than called for by the bill.
"Enacting new laws to compel specific payments on specific dates does nothing at all to repair or reform the fundamentally unsustainable pension and health benefits systems currently in place," Christie wrote.
His feud with Democrats and public union officials and pensioners stretches back to a 4-year-old law that required specific payments each year. But in 2014, Christie scaled back those payments, citing budget constraints and unexpectedly low revenues. Unions, backed by the Democratic leadership, sued Christie seeking the full payments, but the state Supreme Court this year ruled in favor of Christie.
The court said that state constitutional provisions calling for a budget process trump the 2011 law requiring high pension contributions from the state.