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Poll: What’s the Best Path Out of New Jersey’s Pension-System Mess?

The problems with the state’s public-employee pension system aren’t going to go away. Is there a solution in sight?

Now that the New Jersey Supreme Court has decided that the state does not have to live up to a 2011 promise to make a series of increasing contributions to the public-employee pension fund, Gov. Chris Christie and lawmakers have to figure out how to deal with a pension system that’s at least $40 billion in debt -- and getting deeper.

In the wake of Tuesday’s ruling, what should happen next?

  • Christie is right. Employee benefits have become too costly for taxpayers to support, and changes need to be made even as we try to put in funding to keep the pension system afloat. We should pursue the reform proposal Christie rolled out in February, which is based on the work of a bipartisan study commission, that recommended freezing the current pension system and moving employees to less-costly health plans.

  • The governor isn’t going far enough. Not a penny more should go into the pension system until the public-worker unions come to the table and negotiate a solution that helps residents and businesses who are being crushed by high taxes. Workers need to contribute more toward their healthcare and recognize that taxpayers can’t afford the price tag of their premium plans.

  • The unions have every right to be mad. The 2011 law also forced government workers to contribute more toward their healthcare and pensions, and that part of the law wasn’t rolled back by the court. Lawmakers should repeal the rest of the 2011 law so employees can stop paying their hard-earned money into a pension system that’s going to go broke without hefty state contributions.

  • Democrats have it right when they say the state should stick to the current pension-funding plan even if the court has ruled that it doesn’t have to. The state needs to get back on track, increasing payments over seven years to reach the full actuarial amount needed to restore the pension system. If that means hiking income taxes on those earning over $1 million and bringing in more revenue from other policy changes so be it.

  • There’s room for compromise here and that’s what leaders should do, whether they’re elected representatives or union officials. Everyone needs to put egos aside and do what’s best to move the state forward, even if it means not getting everything everyone wants. It will take some give from the unions, from the Democrats, and from the governor. The word gets thrown around a lot, but this is a time for true leadership.

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