CEDAR GROVE, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie accused Democratic leaders in the state Legislature of "essentially suing themselves" for getting involved in a lawsuit over pension payments.
Speaking during his 136th New Jersey town hall event in Cedar Grove on Thursday, the potential Republican presidential contender blasted Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto over their decision this week to file a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to side with public sector unions that are suing the Christie administration over its decision to scale back promised payments into the state workers' pension system. They want the governor to pay the full amount agreed to during his first term.
But Christie argued lawmakers had voted to pass a budget that included the reduced payments and said there's simply not enough money to pay anymore.
"They're now suing to force the court to force them to do what they didn't do. They're essentially suing themselves," the governor told those gathered at the Essex County College Public Safety Academy in Cedar Grove. "It's extraordinary. It's absolutely extraordinary. They are suing themselves to get someone else to get them to do what they were unwilling to do."
In fact, the budget passed by lawmakers last year included an approximately $2.25 billion payment into the pension system. But the governor vetoed approximately $1.57 billion of that spending, leaving a payment of approximately $677 million in fiscal year 2015, according to state Democrats.
Christie said a decision by the state's highest court in the unions' favor would give the state just eight weeks to find $1.6 billion and that the money simply isn't there.
"So my question to them is pretty simple: Where's the money?" Christie asked.
He said the only options would be to raise the sales or income taxes or implement drastic cuts, such as eliminating state aid to hospitals and municipalities and reducing school funding. His budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 proposes a $1.3 billon contribution to the pensions — less than half of the roughly $3 billion called for under a 2011 state law.
In response to Christie's comments, Prieto stood by his decision.
"The governor can say whatever he wants, but people aren't buying it," Prieto said in a statement. "The undeniable fact is the governor signed the 2011 pension reform law and touted it as a major accomplishment, but is now trying to make excuses for failing to fulfill it."
The town hall was Christie's first in New Jersey after taking his show on the road last week to the early-voting state of New Hampshire.
It was also his first since the state's largest teachers union announced it would no longer be working with his administration to overhaul public workers' pensions and health benefits, despite hailing their partnership as unprecedented earlier in the year.
Christie headed to Boston after the event for a fundraising reception for Leadership Matters for America, the political action committee that's been laying the groundwork for his possible presidential run. Paid sick leave advocates from New Jersey are set to protest the event in opposition to Christie's stance.
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