NJ governor signs pension reform measures

(FILE) New Jersey Gov. elect Chris Christie announces Thursday, Dec. 16, 2009, in Trenton, N.J., that he is appointing Kim Guadagno, right, who will be New Jersey's first lieutenant governor, to pull double duty in the new administration by also serving as secretary of state. (Mel Evans)

March 22, 2010 6:48:00 PM PDT
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed three bills designed to save taxpayers billions by making pensions and health benefits for government workers less generous. The governor signed the reform measures Monday night, lingering at the Statehouse until about 8:30 p.m. when the bills reached his desk. He then held a public bill-signing, approving his first legislation taking office in January.

"Today is a great day for the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey," Christie said. "We've been talking for more than four years about the need for this type of beginning, fundamental reform."

The bills require all government workers to contribute at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care costs, cap the amount of unused sick and vacation time workers can cash out at retirement and bar part-timers from enrolling in the state pension system.

Christie said the legislation has far-reaching savings. Two of the bills are projected to save $8 billion over 15 years. The third bill, which requires a health care contribution from all workers, is projected to save local governments and school boards $315 million in the coming year alone.

Proponents said the reforms will help keep the pension system solvent. Opponents blamed the state for the system's fiscal problems, saying years of missed or greatly reduced state contributions have resulted in a system underfunded by about $46 billion.

The Senate passed a resolution Monday that would require the state to begin making its annual pension system contribution. The constitutional amendment requires voter approval.

Christie's budget proposes that the state skip its entire $3 billion contribution in the fiscal year that begins July 1.