Video: Top New Jersey Lawmaker Weighs in on Pension Payment Ruling; Talks Taxing Millionaires to Fund Pensions

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney sat down for an extended interview this week, and it didn’t take long for the conversation to swing to pensions.

In the clip above, Sweeney shares his reaction to the court ruling that will force the state to pay its full pension contribution in 2015, pending appeal.

Below, Sweeney talks about the idea of levying a tax on millionaires and using the revenue to pay down pension debt.


Photo credit: “New Jersey State House” by Marion Touvel – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Pension Funding May Be First Fight of 2015 for New Jersey Lawmakers

Chris Christie

At some point in 2015, pension reform will become a hot topic in the New Jersey Legislature. The only question is when the battle will heat up.

From the looks of things, the fight over pension reform could begin sooner than later.

From New Jersey 101.5:

Funding New Jersey’s public employees’ pension system could be the first major fight in 2015 and it will likely pit long-time allies against one another. Gov. Chris Christie is calling for new reform, but state Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has drawn a line in the sand and said he will support further reform.

“He (Christie) has to fund it. We actually did the things that were necessary to fix it. He needs to fund the pension fund,” Sweeney said. “No matter what changes you make to a pension system, if you don’t meet the financial needs of it at the same time – no fix will work.”

The law required the state to contribute $1.6 billion into the pension system last fiscal year, but Christie paid in only $696 million. He signed an executive order to enable the lesser payment. The payment for this fiscal year was to be $2.25 billion, but the governor said he’ll contribute $681 million.

The governor must make the full $2.25 billion payment this year, according to Sweeney, who acknowledged it will be difficult.

“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on the budget, but we knew it. The big picture here is the lack of growth in the economy and he’s been the governor for five years now so he can’t point fingers at others,” Sweeney said.


Last fall, Christie began making his case for pension reform. He said it is an important, long-term project.

“It’s something that we can’t ignore because it will first crowd out any other type of investments the state wants to make in important projects around the state, and it will then ultimately bankrupt the state,” Christie said.

Gov. Christie has made it clear that reforms would likely mean further benefit cuts.

Sweeney, on the other hand, is pushing for a funding solution that involves more state money going to the pension system.


Photo By Walter Burns [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

New Jersey Lawmaker: Turn Pension Management Over To Unions

New Jersey State House


New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) offered up a new idea for pension management during an interview on Monday: let unions manage their members’ pensions. The verbal proposal was short on details, but it would certainly be a dramatic change.

From NJ Biz:

“I think we need to turn the pensions over to the unions, where they’re responsible for managing it,” he said. “I think that they would be willing to do that if there was a funding source that made the payments.”

Sweeney said having the public worker unions manage their own pensions would put the unions in a position to succeed — or fail —on their own.

Sweeney says unions, not legislators, would have a better handle on how to manage their workers’ pensions and “should control the future of their retirement.”

“If they screw up the investments, they’re responsible,” he said. “Just because they would manage it, doesn’t mean they’d screw it up. In fact, they’d probably manage it better because there would be no politics in it, because it would be completely removed from politics.”

Sweeney, noting that it was the first time he had publicly voiced the idea, did not offer any additional insight on implementation strategy or plans to formalize the proposal.

Several union leaders, including the director of New Jersey’s largest public union, said the idea was interesting but hard to evaluate given the lack of details. From NJ Biz:

Hetty Rosenstein, state director for the Communications Workers of America, New Jersey’s largest public union, was intrigued by the idea, adding that she was in favor of more “genuine oversight” of pension management. But what that would actually look like under Sweeney’s proposal is yet to be seen, she said.

“Without more details, it’s difficult to respond,” Rosenstein said.

Steve Baker, associate director for public relations for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, declined to comment without first having more information.

Gov. Christie’s office hasn’t issued a statement or given a comment on the idea.