NJ government faces $214 billion debt; pensions are biggest cause


BEAST OF BURDEN: New Jersey taxpayers face deep debt heading into 2014.

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

Guard your wallets and hide your bank books. New Jersey’s state government is facing a $214 billion debt – more than $24,000 for every man, woman and child in the Garden State.

But New Jersey is far from alone. For all 50 states, the figure exceeds $5 trillion — and that does not count the debts of federal government, counties or municipalities.

Those numbers were crunched in a new study by State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit public policy group based in Virginia.

“Fiscal changes are needed, and they are needed now,” SBS president Bob Williams said. “Breaking down the state debt totals reflects the alarming toll that reducing that debt may take on citizens, the local economy and state budgets if lawmakers do not take drastic action.”

New Jersey ranks among the nation’s worst states for almost every debt category considered. The flood of red ink includes:

  • $64 billion in general debts, such as bonds and leases.
  • $108 billion of underfunded liability in retirement pension plans for state workers.
  • $41 billion for unfunded post-employment employee benefits, such as health coverage for retirees.

The $214 billion estimate by SBS does not include the liability for local, county and public school workers in state pension plans.

If that obligation was counted, New Jersey’s total state debt would rise to $277 billion. Pension and retirement benefits for public employees would amount to more than three-fourths of the state’s deficit.

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