It would take significant tax increases to meet New Jersey union demands for a full pension payment next year, Gov. Chris Christie, R-New Jersey, told a town hall meeting in Fair Lawn, N.J. Wednesday.
"That is, to me, an untenable and unacceptable situation," he said.
The town hall meeting, Christie's second this year and his second in two weeks, came a day after a group of 14 New Jersey unions announced that they intend to sue Christie over his planned $1.3 billion contribution to the state's public pension fund. The unions are demanding that the governor pay double that amount, in order to comply with a 2011 pension agreement.
Last week, a state judge ruled that Christie broke the law by cutting $1.57 billion from the current year's payment to the pension system.
Without mentioning the unions by name, Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, described the burden a full payment in the next fiscal year would place on the state budget. New Jersey sales tax, he said, would have to rise from seven to 10 percent. State income taxes, alternatively, would have to go up 29 percent. He went further to tie many of his answers to questions from attendees -- he took more than a dozen questions over the course of more than an hour -- about funding of various state programs back to the planned contribution.
"I'd love to be able to put more money toward a number of these things," he said. "I can't print money. I cannot get money out of thin air, and so what we need to do is make choices."
Christie again accused his predecessors of making promises to public employees that they could not pay for, and reiterated that his administration has contributed a total of $4.2 billion to the pension system in the past five years.
Early in his first term, Christie attempted to reform the pension system by requiring employees to contribute more, suspending cost-of-living adjustments and raising the retirement age. He also promised to step up payments over seven years to reach full funding levels. He clearly didn't keep that promise, though his administration's contributions to the pension system amount to more than any of his predecessors contributed, according to NJ.com.
Before the two-hour event was over, Christie again took time to emphasize his New Jersey roots and his commitment to the state and to now-weekly town hall meetings.
A new poll released this week showed Christie at his lowest approval rating since taking office in New Jersey. Just 35 percent of voters surveyed in the Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll approve of his job performance, while 51 percent disapprove.