At home in New Jersey, Chris Christie is facing a huge fight over pensions that could wreck his political future, but on Thursday night the governor was yukking it up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, dancing to “The Evolution of Dad Dancing,” pretending to be outraged at fat jokes and Bridgegate jokes, and—when asked point blank, “hypothetically,” if he could beat Hillary Clinton in 2016—answering, “You bet!” But not so fast.
In addition to lawsuits by the unions whose pension money was grabbed last month by Christie to balance the state budget, a coalition of more than seventy union and labor organizations, community groups, environmental and student organizations are mounting a campaign against looting the pension. On Thursday, hundreds of union members rallied in Trenton over the pension crisis. Their point: that state employees have already been forced to pay substantially to help balance the budget, and that now it’s time for the New Jersey’s millionaires and corporations to pay their fare share.
When Christie announced in May that he was unilaterally canceling more than $2.4 billion in state contributions to the public employee pension fund, he tore up his signature legislative achievement, a pension reform plan that he had hoped would be the basis for his run at the White House.
On the one hand, that law was supposed to show his ability to work across the aisle to enact hard budget choices, since the legislation—which slashed benefits, hiked employee payments and raised the retirement age—had been rammed through with the help of a few Democratic party bosses allied to Christie. But it was also supposed to show Christie’s ability at sound economic stewardship by putting the state pension system on a sound footing.
It might have done that, by 2018—had not Christie decided to take the money to balance the state budget, rather than raising taxes. (Raising taxes is poisonous for the chances for any GOP standard-bearer, in today’s toxic Republican party climate.) But shredding his great legislative achievement may now have also doomed his chances at being president. Even The Washington Post has now editorialized that Christie’s decision to tear up the pension agreement may have ended his chances for the White House:
Pension reform was the signature accomplishment of his first term and one of the keys to his reelection. It presumably would be a cornerstone of Christie’s case for the presidency if he runs. On May 20, however, Christie threw all that into doubt. He announced that New Jersey would have to cut a scheduled payment to the state’s pension fund by $900 million this year; he also requested legislative authority to reduce next year’s payment by $1.5 billion.
The New Jersey Education Association, the Communications Workers of America and many other unions representing firefighters, police and other public sector employees filed suit, as Christie Watch has reported, to stop Christie’s pension grab. A judge has agreed to expedite the lawsuits and a hearing is set for June 25. But even if the unions win their case, the fiscal year expires June 30 and the budget has to be balanced. Christie taunted his opponents this week saying there was no alternative to his plan: