New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says a deal to reform public employee benefits is his greatest accomplishment since taking office in 2010.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Christie also lavished praise on Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver -- leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature -- for making it happen.
The measure requires 500,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other public workers to pay a larger portion of their health insurance premiums based on income, making their contributions more in line with the private sector. It also increases their pension contributions.
“It's a monumental accomplishment, it really is. Very few states have done anything this sweeping in one piece of legislation,” Christie told the AP, calling underfunded pension and health care obligations “the core problems of government spending in the country.”
“When everybody in 2025 is still collecting their pensions, they should be looking for me and Steve and Sheila to say ‘Thank you.’ Because this was not easy.”
The state's retirement funds are underfunded by $110 billion. Christie has estimated that the reform legislation will save the state $132 billion over the next 30 years.
The Assembly approved the bill 46-32 on Thursday night following hours of emotional public speeches that came after often bitter closed-door debate among Democrats. Uniformed state troopers escorted several people from the gallery for disrupting the debate with cheers and jeers.
The legislation, which has also cleared the Senate, will need to go back there Monday for what is expected to be a quick vote because of one change made by the Assembly. Christie will then be able to sign the measure into law.
On Friday morning, Christie appeared on NBC's “Today” show, where he said he thought President Barack Obama should follow his lead and personally engage in budget talks with lawmakers. He said “you can't negotiate through a second person.”