Christie's call for pension reform - one of the final topics of his speech - did not square with Democrats, including: State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester; Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus; Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Mt. Holly; and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
"We are not going to break our commitment to the pension system," Sweeney, of West Deptford, said. "We are going to make the pension payments and we are not going to back off of that.''
Christie finished his speech by forcefully calling for pension reform – a call he has repeated several times in his tenure. The pension contribution and debt service, he said, takes about $1 billion out of the state’s budget.
“That’s nearly $1 billion we can spend on education,’’ he said. “That we can’t invest in infrastructure improvement. That we can’t use to put more cops on the street.”
Christie said the “time to avoid this conversation and these choices is nearly over,’’ and called for the state Legislature to adopt an “attitude of choice.’’"We're ready, willing and able to have an honest discussion,'' Greenwald said. "Unfortunately, that's not what we heard today.''
The Democrats also said Christie's speech failed to address critical issues, like income disparity and help for the long-term unemployed. Weinberg said Christie's policy ideas on education did not include universal pre-K, something Democrats champion.
"It works, we know it works and we should fund it,'' Weinberg said.
Sweeney said there would be room for negotiation with the Christie administration, however.
"Where we can compromise to get things done, we will," Sweeney said. "There are things we want to get done in this state.''