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Policy: Entitlements

Christie creates panel to study pension overhaul

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News,Business,New Jersey,Entitlements,Chris Christie,Pensions

PARSIPPANY, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie is looking outside his administration for solutions to the state's budget woes.

Christie signed an executive order Friday convening a nonpartisan blue ribbon commission assigned to produce recommendations for tackling the state's rising pension and health benefits costs. Christie has warned they threaten to bankrupt the state.

"If we don't do more and we don't do it now, we'll be forced to choose between funding what matters or a bloated, unaffordable entitlement system that we couldn't muster the will to fix once and for all," said Christie during a news conference in Parsippany.

The yet-to-be-named members of the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission, he said, will be tasked with "thinking big and being bold" about how to create a sustainable retirement and health benefits system for public employees.

"When it comes to combating these ever-growing entitlement costs, no idea is off the table," he said.

Christie has been touring the state pressing the need for more dramatic cuts, saying New Jersey — and its public workers pension funds — will go bankrupt unless more changes are made.

He had originally intended to unveil his plan this summer, but says he'll now wait until after the panel releases its recommendations in the fall.

The panel, whose members will be announced next week, has been given 60 days to deliver its report, with a status update in 30 days.

Christie had previously hailed a landmark 2011 deal, which included increased worker health and pension payments, in exchange for the state contributions more to the state's pension fund. But Christie scaled back his contributions this summer to fill a gaping budget hole, leading to charges from Democrats and union leaders that he'd reneged on his side of the bargain.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said Friday Christie's first obligation is to make those payments.

"The fact remains that the problems will be fixed if he simply keeps his word and provides the appropriate funding. Until the governor decides to keep that commitment, there will be no further discussion between us on pensions," Sweeney said in a statement.

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