03.24.2010 0

A Tale of Opposites: McDonnell and Christie Deal With Public Sector Pension Deficits

By Adam Bitely –

After November’s elections, the casual political observer would have cast the results as follows. In Virginia, a strong conservative candidate had become governor, and in New Jersey, a moderate Republican had been elected in a state that seemed impossible to win in. However, that analysis is tragically flawed.

Consider the following. In New Jersey, a state plagued by strong public sector unions and a budget that just cannot be balanced, newly elected Governor Chris Christie has been faced with making decisions that even the supposedly strong conservative Bob McDonnell in Virginia chose not to make. Christie has taken on the public sector unions headlong and has not relented.

In a recent Washington Examiner column, Christie is credited with cutting 375 out of 378 state programs. As well, he has made education cuts, including all-out spending freezes, and has promised to sign any reform bill on public sector union pension and benefit programs.

As far as Christie is concerned on public sector union pensions, which are funded by the taxpayer, he is promising reform. As Christie said, “until reform is enacted, we cannot in good conscience fund a system that is out of control, bankrupting our state and its people and making promises it cannot meet in the long term.”

This is all quite different from what Governor McDonnell has done in Virginia.

While McDonnell has made education cuts, hardly at the level that Christie has, McDonnell has still to figure out what to do about public sector employee union pension programs. These pensions are bankrupting Virginia, as well as many other states across the nation.

In the short term, McDonnell plans to underfund the pensions, but Virginia taxpayers will still pay the money in the end to catch the pension funds up over the next decade. This is hardly reform for a program that threatens to put the state on the brink of bankruptcy. Where is McDonnell’s fiscal conservatism in such band-aid fixes?

When it comes time to fix the pension gap, Virginia taxpayers will be hit with a heavy burden—and one that no one quite knows how to deal with down the road. McDonnell, unlike Christie who is seeking immediate reforms and solutions instead of postponing the issue, is pushing the problem into the future. In Virginia, a Governor can serve only one four-year term and his successors will be forced to deal with McDonnell’s denials.

In New Jersey, the most taxed state in the nation, a majority of the electorate agrees that cuts are needed, even on the pensions. It is simply too expensive to fund such programs while everyone else is forced to make cuts across the board.

Even though McDonnell and Christie have had only a few months to create a mold for how they plan to govern, it is becoming more and more evident that the Christie way is the right way. McDonnell should be taking lessons from the leadership that Christie is providing in New Jersey, and help lead Virginia back to the days of being the best governed state in the nation.

Adam Bitely is the Executive Editor of the Liberty Features Syndicate.

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