As Gov. Christie pushes to overhaul public worker benefits, some teachers are waging a counterattack - with Twitter hashtags.
Earlier this week, teachers took to social media, demanding that the governor and state lawmakers #fundnjpension.
"I made my pension payment today. Did you?" many of the tweets read.
Teachers sent the messages on Monday, a payday, when pension contributions are automatically withdrawn from their paychecks.
The online offensive was supported by the New Jersey Education Association, which retweeted more than 200 of the messages. And it drew a response from Christie.
"For all those asking me to #fundNJpension to keep my promise because #itsthelaw - Here's #thewholetruth," read a Tweet from Christie's account Monday night.
He then sent out a slew of figures on the costs borne by New Jersey taxpayers and the pension payments he has made, after his predecessors left the system deeply underfunded.
Christie - who reduced scheduled contributions last year in the face of a revenue shortfall - argues that the state can no longer afford worker benefits at their current levels. He proposes freezing current pension plans and reducing health benefits, a case he has been making during weekly town-hall-style meetings across the state.
"The fact is this system needs to be rejiggered, because it is unaffordable," Christie said at a meeting Tuesday in Union County during a back-and-forth with a teacher who accused him of favoring the wealthy.
Christie told the teacher that she and others "pay a fraction of the money for the benefits you're going to get," likening public worker health benefit plans to a "$26,000-a-year subsidy."
According to Christie's office, the most commonly selected state health plan has a premium cost of $31,716, of which the state pays on average $26,007.
A report by a commission Christie formed to propose pension and health benefits changes said "the average annual employer cost to provide family coverage for an active public employee" is about $16,000.
Those involved in the #fundnjpension effort say they're providing a counterpoint to what they view as attacks by Christie on public workers.
"The idea that pensions are being spun as something evil . . . is nonsense," said Carrie Odgers, a middle-school technology teacher in Ringwood.
Joined by another teacher, Odgers helped start the Twitter campaign, posting the idea on a Facebook page for NJEA members.
"We organized around the idea that people tend to think of pensions as gratuities, they're gifts - they're not," Odgers said. "They're deferred compensation we earned over years of service."
In his $33.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Christie has proposed a $1.3 billion contribution into the pension system - a payment he touts as the state's largest ever. But it would fall about $1.8 billion short of what a 2011 law he signed requires, according to the Office of Legislative Services.
A state court judge ruled in February that the state's cut to the current year's payment - from $2.25 billion to $681 million - violated the contractual rights of public workers.
Christie's administration said in a court filing Tuesday that the ruling "fabricated a constitutional right" to the funding.
With the state budget process underway, Odgers said teachers want to pressure lawmakers to "fully fund the pension."
They got the attention of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson), who tweeted Tuesday that "NJ needs to meet its obligations and #fundnjpension - must be fair to hardworking employees who are paying their share."
In his February budget address, Christie had promoted "an unprecedented accord" with the NJEA on changes to pension and health benefits - an agreement union leaders immediately accused him of overstating.
Steve Baker, an NJEA spokesman, said Tuesday that Christie "has blatantly violated" the 2011 law, which required the state to make payments into the pension system according to an escalating schedule.
"This isn't just NJEA the organization standing up and speaking up on these issues," he said. Members "expect the state to live up to its part of the bargain."