What taxpayers need to know about Gov. Chris Christie's budget, from taxes to pension reform

Associated Press

New Jersey taxpayers got a glimpse Tuesday of how Gov. Chris Christie plans to spend their money for the next fiscal year, as he weighs a 2016 presidential bid and highlights his work with the state teachers union on pension reform.

Christie presented a plan to pay what he says is a record amount into the state's troubled pension system, even though it's less than what he had agreed to pay.

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Here's a look at some of what the Republican governor laid out.

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TAXES:

Christie did not call for raising taxes and has publicly criticized the Democratic-controlled Legislature for writing bills to increase taxes during last year's budget process.

Democrats, though, say that unless a significant economic turnaround sharply raises state revenues, the only way for the state to meet its obligations to public-sector pensioners is to raise taxes.

Democrats proposed raising taxes on residents who earn over $1 million during last year's budget season, but Christie vetoed the measure.

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PENSIONS:

Christie proposes paying $1.3 billion into the state's public pension system and says the figure is the largest payment in the state's history, but in reality it's well short of the $2.25 billion the governor proposed paying for the current fiscal year.

He paired his suggestion with a newly released proposal from a pension reform committee he convened. The report includes recommendations to freeze the current pension plans, transfer them to employee-overseen entities and lock in funding through a constitutional amendment.

His fiscal year 2016 proposal comes after Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson on Monday ruled in favor of public pension unions that sued the administration after Christie cut payments in 2014 when the state's receipts fell below expectations.

The order calls for Christie and lawmakers to find a way to pay $1.57 billion into the fund. Christie's spokesman has said the governor plans to appeal the ruling.

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TEACHERS UNION:

Christie announced he was working with the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, as he formulates a plan to reform the pension system.

Christie said the union has agreed to a roadmap on how to fix the pension issue and casts that as sign of how important the question has become.

The NJEA's executive director, Ed Richardson, told The Associated Press the group has agreed only to the concept of finding long-term pension fixes.

"We're trying to get to a place where we can come out of this with a secure, reliable retirement benefit for our members as well as other public employees," Richardson said.

NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement before the speech that the union does not agree to everything in the report.

"Some of what will be proposed is not feasible, and some of it unfairly burdens public employees and retirees," he said.

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TRANSPORTATION FUNDING:

Christie did not touch on the troubled transportation trust fund, which will run out of money for projects by July 1, but he plans to tap into $600 million in untapped bonding authority to keep the fund, according to Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff.

The decision amounts to taking out more debt to fund the nearly $1.6 billion account.

The decision disappointed public interest groups who have for months been lobbying lawmakers and Christie to speedily address the depleted fund.

The administration and lawmakers say they're talking behind the scenes about how to make the fund solvent, but there's been no agreement.

Some Democrats have called for raising the gas tax to bail out the fund, but Christie has not weighed in yet, saying only that all options are on the table. Christie instead focused his speech on the other issue looming over his administration and lawmakers: public pensions.