Chris Christie is one of the few Republican governors in the country dealing with a Democratic legislature, but he was able to secure passage of a bold pension and health benefits reform bill last night with the help of the New Jersey legislature's Democratic leaders.
Thousands of people showed up in Trenton to protest the deal. "We got Adolph Christie and his two generals trying to make New Jersey Nazi Germany," a union official said at one rally. The assembly's Democratic majority leader said the speaker "sold out" the party. Although Democrats have a 47 to 33 majority in the assembly--and a majority of Democrats opposed the deal--the bill passed by a vote of 46 to 32. The state senate, controlled 24 to 16 by the Democrats, passed a reform package earlier this week on a 24 to 15 vote. The New York Times rightly calls the deal a "major victory" for Christie and a "once-unthinkable setback for the state’s powerful public employee unions."
"It's an example of bipartisanship that the President and Congress can only aspire to," Christie said yesterday. This morning on the Today show, Christie hailed the legislature's Democratic leaders. "I would not have been able to achieve this for New Jersey without the Senate President Steve Sweeney and the Speaker of the Assembly Sheila Oliver," Christie said. "Everybody came together, put party aside."
Asked by host Matt Lauer what President Obama and members of Congress could learn from his success as it pertains to their debt negotiations, Christie replied: "First, the President can show up. I mean you know, you can't negotiate through a secondary person. And with all due respect to the Vice President, the President's got to show up. And I spent hours and hours and hours, Matt, with the Senate President and the Speaker personally in my office over weeks negotiating this."
The reform will save the state more than $120 billion over 30 years, according to Christie's administration. In order to require state employees to pay more for health and pension benefits, the bill rolls back collective bargaining for benefits for four years while a "new state panel comprised of union workers and state managers" establishes new health care plans.
"All public employees will pay a statutorily-established percent of premium, instead of a percentage of salary, up to 35% premium-share depending on base salary with a floor of no less than 1.5% of base salary (the existing minimum)," according to a Christie spokesman. State workers will have more plans "with varying levels of costs and coverage" to choose from. The bill also raises the retirement age to 65 for new workers, ends cost of living adjustments to pension plans until the pension fund is healthy, and establishes new "Plan Design Committees" comprised equally of management and labor leaders to manage individual pension funds. "Plan changes can be made, but no fund will be allowed to fall below a healthy level of funding – ever," according to Christie's office.
You can watch Christie's Today show interview here:
Christie will be on Meet the Press this Sunday.