As reported in NJ.Com, the New Jersey League of Municipalities stopped short of taking an official position on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed pension reforms but stated the proposed changes could disenfranchise workers and trigger a mass exodus of local workers.  Executive Director Bill Dressel shared the league’s concerns in a letter to the governor late last week, saying it had concerns about some of the recommendations and wants a seat at the table.

“There are questions being raised by municipal officials both in a capacity as an employer, because we’re the ones responsible for paying the bills, and from the workforce perspective,” Dressel said today.

A special commission appointed by Christie released a long-awaited report last week recommending drastic changes to the state’s pension and heath plans, including freezing the existing pension system and moving active employees into a hybrid of a traditional defined-benefit pension plan and a 401(k)-like defined-contribution plan.

Dressel said his group has not taken a formal position on the proposal and stated that changes are necessary.  However Dressel also stated that “these are major white knuckle issues that have got to be discussed.”  and “The proposal to freeze existing pensions, without qualification, could inspire the mass exodus of key local administrators and professionals, giving them no time to train and mentor their successors,.”  “This loss of experience and expertise would have a deleterious impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of local programs and services.”

In accordance with Christie’s proposed plan Employees’ health care coverage would also be reduced and they would have to pay more out of pocket toward their health care coverage. In exchange, the state would constitutionally protect pension payments after decades of shortchanging them.  How interesting–another proposed promise to fund the pension system from Governor Christie.

Christie’s commission noted in its report that aspects of the plan would likely be unpopular, but that its members “believe in time they will be viewed as the best way to move forward.”  The commission stressed that with $83 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, $53 billion in unfunded health care liabilities and soaring annual pension payments, New Jersey can little afford to drag its feet on making these changes.  “The need for urgency in adopting a solution cannot be overstressed. The already narrow window for a reasonable solution is closing fast,” the commission wrote.

The New Jersey League of  Municipalities is often viewed as  a “conservative” organization that often opposes proposed legislation that favors public employee rights regarding employment.  The fact that this organization is calling Christie’s proposed plan into questions should leave the Governor scratching his head and questioning whether there is a better option available.