As reported by NJ.com, Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday signed a bill that will require the state to make quarterly payments to New Jersey’s ailing public worker pension system.
The bill is a reworked version of a measure Christie twice vetoed.
The new law will require governor to make pension payments on a quarterly basis by Sept. 30, Dec. 31, March 31 and June 30 of each year, instead of at the end of the fiscal year in June. In exchange, the pension fund would reimburse state treasury for any losses incurred if the state has to borrow money to make a payment.
State lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last month to approve the measure. It cleared the state Senate by a 35-0 vote and the state Assembly 72-0.
The legislation (S2810) resembled a provision of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required the state to make a full pension payment suggested by actuaries each year.
However, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who pushed the amendment, pulled his support for it over concerns about the state’s ability to make the payment which drew outrage from public worker unions.
On Thursday, Sweeney said making pension quarterly pension payments “will provide greater stability to state finances, produce ongoing savings for the taxpayers and help make the pension funds more secure.m A scheduled timetable for making the already-required payments will help correct the costly and irresponsible mistakes of the past when contributions were delayed, deferred or ignored altogether.”
In his 2014 veto of the bill, Christie called it “an improper and unwarranted intrusion upon the longstanding executive prerogative to determine the appropriate timing of payments” so those expenditures line up with tax collection cycles.
But the change in the bill to have the pension fund pick up the cost of borrowing if needed may address the governor’s previous concerns.
Hetty Rosenstein, state director Communications Workers of America, praised the bill, but stressed she’s focused on demanding the state make full payments.
“CWA supports quarterly pension payments,” she said. “However, unless the full amount due to the plan is appropriated, quarterly payments are meaningless. History shows we simply cannot rely on the word of the governor or Legislature when it comes to the pension.”
Last month, the state’s credit rating dropped for a record 10th time during Christie’s administration.
Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings lowered the state’s rating from “A” to “A-“. The move comes after the rating agency revised its outlook for New Jersey from stable to negative over concerns with the declining pension funding levels and rising retirement liabilities.
Decades of underfunding have weakened the pension system, as have more recent poor investment returns. The fund lost 0.87 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June, based on unaudited figures, and investment returns in the year before were 4.16 percent.
As of July 1, 2015, New Jersey’s state and local pension funds have just 37.5 percent of the funding it needs to pay for future benefits. That is based on new reporting standards that require the state to project lower investment returns and had bleak consequences for the state’s estimates.
New Jersey joins California, Indiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania in states that have rules requiring quarterly pension payments.