TRENTON - Gov. Christie is pushing back against the Legislature's Democratic leadership in a dispute over funding of the pension system, arguing that their support of unions seeking bigger pension contributions amounts to an endorsement of raising taxes.
In response to a decision by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) to file an amicus brief in support of the unions' lawsuit, Christie's office on Tuesday accused the Democrats of using "fairy tale rhetoric" in calling for bigger payments.
On Tuesday, the Christie administration rolled out a social media campaign using the hashtag #WhereIsTheMoney.
"Call and ask @NJSenatePres and @VincentPrieto #WheresTheMoney," Christie tweeted Tuesday, posting the lawmakers' phone numbers.
Using what it called the "Trenton Dictionary," Christie's office said "make the payment" really means raising taxes.
"Everyone can agree that if we had the money, we would make the pension payment," Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said. "But the simple fact is that we don't, and neither do the Speaker and Senate President, unless they want to cut key programs and raise taxes further on New Jersey families with a massive 29 percent increase in the income tax or raising the sales to 10 percent."
Democrats have not called for such tax hikes and are not likely to do so. Sweeney has said the state should raise the income tax on its highest earners to help fund the pension system as part of a "good-faith effort" to comply with a judge's order in February.
Christie, a Republican, cut the pension payment in June by about $1.6 billion for the current fiscal year, citing a revenue shortfall.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson ruled in February Christie had violated a 2011 law he signed that gave public workers a constitutionally protected right to bigger pension payments.
The state Supreme Court is set to hear Christie's appeal on May 6.
In response to GOP attacks Tuesday, Prieto said in a statement: "It's easy to resort to hyperbole and partisan attacks in difficult times. But Democrats have instead chosen to lead responsibly, presenting the governor last year with a balanced budget that met the state's obligations, only to see it vetoed, burying the state deeper into fiscal crisis."
In a statement accompanying their amicus brief Monday, Sweeney and Prieto said: "We want to make it clear to the court that the administration's refusal to make the legally required pension payments violates the law and disregards legislative intent."
"The pension reform bill approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor is a law he can't choose to ignore," they continued. "He has a legal, constitutional and contractual obligation to make the required payments."
In town hall-style meetings across the state, Christie has argued that New Jersey faces essentially two choices in solving the pension-funding crisis: overhaul the current system or raise taxes.
The governor wants to align public workers' health benefits with those offered in the private sector and says he'd use the savings to pay down the pension system's $83 billion unfunded liability.