MuniLand

Chris Christie’s pension reform: round two

I have a lot of experience talking to Congressional staffers, regulators, rating agency analysts, municipal bond traders and portfolio managers. When you pump these parties for information there is always a clear line about the type and amount of information they will share.

But I had a bad encounter with the press spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s treasury department. When I questioned the department’s methodology for their claim that reform in 2011 had reduced over $100 billion in future state pension liabilities, the treasury spokesman told me I need to go to college to understand pension fund projections. I wrote in 2011:

The accomplishment that seemed to be propel Christie to national prominence was his pension reform efforts. He has over-inflated his accomplishments on the issue. For example, he claims he made only one of three payments in seventeen years into the state’s public pension funds. If this were true the funds would have collapsed.

Now Christie is back with a new story about the pension system in New Jersey and how it needs to be repaired again because the first fix was not enough. This from John Reitmeyer of The Record:

Christie has regaled audiences across the country with stories of how he teamed up with Democrats and pulled New Jersey’s debt-plagued pension system back from the brink of insolvency. His victory lap after a 2011 bill-signing on pension reforms took him to California for a speech before Nancy Reagan and to the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

New Jersey is getting squeezed everywhere

The largest governor in America, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, was outed this week by the New York Post for undergoing weight reduction surgery. Reuters reports:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has struggled with obesity for much of his adult life, underwent lap band surgery in February to reduce the size of his stomach, at the urging of his wife and children, his press secretary said on Tuesday.

Is New Jersey fiscally imploding?

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, held a press conference on Wednesday in which he excoriated the U.S. Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and other Republicans for failing to hold a vote on Sandy relief this week. With a tone that is rarely heard in national politics, Christie accused the Congressional leadership of his own party of “duplicity” and “selfishness,” according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered more tempered comments.

Was Christie’s tirade just common speech for Jersey, or are there other pressures on the governor? New Jersey state revenues are far from the projections that Christie’s administration made. Many, including myself and rating agencies, have said Christie’s revenue projections for fiscal year 2013 were overly optimistic given the economic climate. Meanwhile, Christie barnstormed around the state on his “New Jersey Comeback” tour for months until it was clear that the state was not experiencing a jobs boom. State revenues were already weak. Then Sandy flattened many tax and fee streams.

Here is New Jersey’s year to date report (July 1, 2012 – November 30, 2012) from the state treasurer (in $1000’s):

The politics of recovery money for Sandy

Several days after hurricane Sandy slammed into the tri-state area, President Obama toured the devastated shore with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and promised to deliver support. Last Friday, six weeks after the storm, the White House sent a $60 billion supplemental budget request to Capitol Hill for recovery funds. The request is likely to get tangled up in ongoing budget and debt-limit wrangling and intra-state politics. New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo is already showing some sharp elbows, as seen in the tweet above from his press conference last Friday with New York’s congressional delegation. Take that Chris Christie.

There seems to be a semi-resigned attitude among the senators from the affected states. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a statement:

“This is going to be a tough fight in the Congress given the fiscal cliff, and some members have not been friendly to disaster relief,” they added.

More budget illusions in New Jersey

Last Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed to levy a $10,000 fine on anyone who leaked the state’s fiscal data ahead of official announcements. Politicker NJ quoted New Jersey state Senator Barbara Buono (a Democrat from Middlesex):

“Governor Christie came into office promising ‘fiscal transparency’ and signed an executive order [in 2010] requiring his Treasury Department to issue revenue reports on the 10th business day of each month,” Buono noted. “But now that revenues are coming in below the governor’s wildly optimistic projections, revenue numbers are suddenly a state secret and the governor wants total control over the flow of information.”

“Whether New Jersey taxes are coming in as expected should not be kept secret from New Jersey taxpayers and it should not be kept secret from New Jersey legislators who are responsible for ensuring that the state budget remains in balance. Like the United States Constitution, the 1947 New Jersey Constitution established a government with three equal branches. It did not establish an imperial governorship.”

Be skeptical of Christie touting his accomplishments

Bloomberg View’s Josh Barro is lauding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in advance of his keynote address at the Republican National Convention:

“Christie’s record in New Jersey is too substantively centrist to run as the darling of the party’s right. Instead, if he runs in four years, he’ll have to make the case for a more compromising and consultative politics that tries to occupy the center, modeled on his successes in New Jersey.”

Unfortunately, Barro never details any successes of Christie during his time as governor. In fact, Christie’s record is particularly thin, and New Jersey remains in dire fiscal shape. In contrast to Barro’s piece, the reporters in the Bloomberg newsroom have detailed how bond markets are actually charging New Jersey and its municipalities more to borrow since Christie took office:

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