Today, Phil Murphy will be inaugurated as the new governor of New Jersey. That also means that Chris Christie’s two terms as governor are ending. Christie leaves office as the most unpopular governor in the history of New Jersey. Given his track record just on public pensions, it is not surprising that Christie is so unpopular.
New Jersey’s public pension plans are notoriously underfunded. This is the result of years of deliberate underfunding by governors and legislatures of both parties. Chris Christie took office during the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, when many public pension funds took a loss on investment income. Christie pledged to address the poorly funded status of New Jersey’s public pensions. He fought for and signed a law that increased contributions from workers and suspended cost of living adjustments, but also committed the state to making increased contributions as well. Rather than stick with the terms of his much-touted pension bill, Christie repeatedly broke his promises to workers and fought multiple court battles in order to continue breaking his promise.
Instead of following through with his promises to workers and gradually increasing the state’s contributions to the public pension funds, Christie repeatedly cut the state’s contribution. In spite of his claims that New Jersey could not afford increased pension payments, Christie handed corporations $2.1 billion in business tax subsidies in his first three years in office. While Christie has repeatedly broken his word to workers, he has gone out of his way to help large corporations and Wall Street financial firms.
Christie’s overall record managing New Jersey’s economy is a poor one. New Jersey has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation at 5.1 percent. This ranks 47th among the fifty states and District of Columbia. Additionally, New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded 11 times during Christie’s governorship. Credit ratings agencies repeatedly cite the poor funding of New Jersey’s public pensions, an issue that could have been addressed had Christie simply followed the terms of his own law and maintained his commitment to increased funding.
Throughout his term as governor, Christie has displayed contempt for public employees. He famously said that New Jersey teachers deserve “a punch in the face.” After the complete failure of his own presidential campaign, Christie became a key advisor for President Trump during the campaign and the transition. Before being bluntly tossed aside, Christie was reportedly one of the chief advocates for going after the pensions and workplace protections of federal employees.
Chris Christie’s record as governor of New Jersey is one of failure. He consistently mismanaged the state’s economy, resulting in multiple credit downgrades and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Chief among his failures is his repeated violation of his own pension law, breaking his promises to New Jersey’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees. Let’s hope that New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, will prove to be a more capable and trustworthy leader of the state and can begin to strengthen the state’s public pension plans.