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Policy: Labor

Chris Christie: New Jersey hampered by 'exploding' retiree costs

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Associated Press,Labor,New Jersey,Entitlements,Chris Christie,Budgets and Deficits,Pensions

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will again take aim at what he calls the "exploding" costs of public employee pensions and health care in his fifth annual budget message Tuesday.

In excerpted remarks released by his administration, Christie says the pension reforms enacted during his first term don't go far enough.

"Without additional reforms, New Jersey taxpayers still owe $52 billion to fully fund the pension system," he says in the remarks.

The excerpts do not specify what additional reforms the possible 2016 presidential candidate will propose. But Christie is expected to link rising retiree costs to the state's inability to adequately fund university research, K-12 education, tax relief, public safety and drug rehabilitation.

"We just can't raise taxes enough to pay for the exploding costs of public employee pensions and benefits, not to mention the burden it would place on our already overburdened taxpayers," Christie says.

Christie, 51, helped cement his national reputation by taking on public employee unions. Reforms enacted during his first term require public employees to pay more for benefits, postponed cost-of-living increases for retirees and forced the state to start paying into the fund after years of skipping payments. The powerful teachers union spent millions in ads in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the proposals.

Christie plans on making a record $2.25 billion contribution to the fund in the budget year that begins July 1.

Pension, health care and debt obligations leave only 6 percent of new spending unaccounted for, he says.

The speech comes as the Republican's administration is mired in scandals that have hobbled the start of his second term and threaten his future political plans.

Allegations that Christie aides threatened to withhold storm relief funds from a severely flooded town unless its mayor OK'd a favored redevelopment project and that other aides intentionally blocked traffic leading to a heavily traveled bridge to punish a Democratic adversary are being investigated by federal prosecutors and a legislative investigative panel.

The administration has denied the storm aid charges and the governor has said he had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the lane closings.

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