LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: Chris Christie makes a cinematic effort to sell pension reform.
By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog
With a dash of high drama, Chris Christie is taking a Hollywood approach to pension reform in New Jersey.
The governor’s latest YouTube video — “No Pain, No Gain” — is a send-up of a movie trailer for an action thriller based on the state’s fiscal intrigue. Interspersed with ominous sound bites from Christie are video clips of a missile launching, helicopters on patrol, military jets flying in formation, a roller coaster, a car chase and actor Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson walking away from an explosion.
“We need to clean up the mess of the past — pensions, health benefits, debt service,” warns Christie, his voice accompanied by spooky music and punctuated by drumbeats.
The pension crisis is a costly scenario, as retirement funds for public workers face a $51 billion shortfall. Yet the fake movie trailer was a low-budget affair, according to Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts.
“No extra cost beyond our salaries,” Roberts wrote in an email to New Jersey Watchdog. “(It) was done by us, collaboratively, in the press office.”
The 80-second video is big on production values, but low on substance. Not a single solution or proposed reform is mentioned by Christie.
Instead, the governor promises he’ll be “choosing to do what’s hard, choosing to do what is right by all of the people of this state.”
While Christie may cast himself as a reformer, his administration has been guilty of its own pension abuses. New Jersey Watchdog investigations found:
- Louis Goetting, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, rakes in $228,860 a year — $140,000 in salary plus $88,860 in pension as a retired state employee.
- Of 60 double-dippers in the executive branch, 19 were hired under Christie.
- A subsequent probe in 2013 identified 80 State Police retirees who returned to the state payroll full-time as double-dippers.
- Adam Heck, the governor’s associate legal counsel, gets a $44,818 a year state disability pension in addition to his $110,000 salary.
- Heck is one of 18 “disabled” state employees who collect salaries for working plus disability pensions because they supposedly can no longer work.
Perhaps the most notable pension indiscretion involves Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Christie’s second-in-command.
Guadagno, as Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, made false and misleading statements that enabled her top aide to improperly collect an $85,000 a year pension in addition to his $87,500 salary. The story was first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in October 2010.
Will Christie and his cronies be willing to share the pain of reform? Or will hypocrisy continue as a subplot of this Garden State saga?