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Christie’s New Jersey pension problems could plague his campaign

June 30, 2015, 3:54 PM UTC
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Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, pauses while speaking during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 19, 2015. The annual Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference gives top-tier presidential contenders as well as long shots a chance to compete for the large evangelical Christian base in the crowded Republican primary contest. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Drew Angerer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

With his announcement on Tuesday that he is running for President, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became, incredibly, the 14th candidate to join the field vying for the Republican nomination with at least two more (Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker) likely to join in the coming months. Christie, though, has more than the other candidates to worry about — he also has to battle the fact that the state he runs, New Jersey, is a complete mess when it comes to public finance.

The biggest problem? Pensions. Earlier this month Christie won a battle in the State Supreme Court allowing him to slash $1.57 billion from the state’s public employees pension fund, reported the Asbury Park Press. Still, the paper reports, serious problems remain:

That’s the good news for taxpayers. The bad news is that lower contributions could impact benefits for 800,000 current and retired members of the New Jersey public pension system or lead to higher future tax bites to make up for shortfalls.

Baye Larsen of Moody’s Investors Service said the result “perpetuates severe pension underfunding and rapid growth of state liabilities.”

So, while this was a political victory for Christie (saving him from having to raise taxes right now) it doesn’t exactly solve the problems New Jersey is facing — and the last thing someone running for President wants is to be distracted by his day job, especially for something as unsexy as public employees pensions.

There’s also the continued fighting over budgets that have been a hallmark of Christie’s tenure. This is something that he will likely point to on the campaign trail, claiming that he, unlike other candidates, stood up to Democrats and fought for austerity and scaling back the size of the public sector. If we were to win the primary and go up against a Democrat in the general election, though, Christie will face tough criticism from people in the state who say his policies drove New Jersey into a financial crisis.

Christie has made his bones in the Republican party as a fiscal hawk, perhaps more so than any other candidate. One of the big questions for his candidacy is going to be whether or not he can explain that to Republican voters, or if it gets lost in the bluster.