Paying the Piper

Pension funding


In 2011, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hammered out a plan with the state legislature to address Trenton's underfunded public employees' pension fund. To make up for hundreds of millions of dollars that should have been paid into the fund—but wasn't across several administrations—the state would agree to ramp up contributions. In return, public sector employees would also contribute more to their own retirement. The deal was aimed at closing the state's pension gap, estimated at between $80 billion and $200 billion, by 2018.

But then lean times hit and Christie attempted to take a machete to his own agreement. Facing budget shortfalls, he cut more than $2 billion in money the state was supposed to contribute to the pension fund from his two most recent budgets.

Public sector unions sued, demanding that the money be paid. In February, a superior court judge for Mercer County agreed with them, saying the Republican governor could not back out of the deal. "The court cannot allow the State to 'simply walk away from its financial obligations,' especially when those obligations were the State's own creation," she wrote.

Christie is not giving in. For his 2016 budget, revealed in March, he is proposing a $1.3 billion payment into the state's pension system—less than half of what New Jersey owes for the year. The unions are threatening to take the governor back to court.