TRENTON, N.J. -- Hundreds of union members crowded the road and walkways at New Jersey's Statehouse on Tuesday to protest Gov. Chris Christie's funding reductions to public pensions.
Protesters carried a mix of signs, including one that said "Tax Millionaires Fund the Pension." Others shouted "We want to be paid!" and "Governor Christie, breaking his word, breaking the law!"
Wearing mostly red T-shirts and blowing whistles throughout the rally, union members called on the Republican governor to make the $3.1 billion pension payment that he agreed to in a 2011 overhaul of the retirement system.
Christie reduced the state contribution to the fund last year by about $1.6 billion, though he has put in more than predecessors.
Public sector unions are pressing the issue in court. The state Supreme Court heard arguments last week on whether New Jersey must put in more for the current fiscal year. The rally was intended to coincide with arguments in a lower court on Christie's planned contribution for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, but the hearing was postponed pending the higher court's ruling.
At certain points, the rally got emotional. Communication Workers of America official Hetty Rosenstein spoke of how her 90-year-old mother continues to live on her father's public pension.
"It takes a special kind of carelessness and cruelty to be willing to burn down the American dream that my father worked so hard to achieve," Rosenstein said. "But that is the fight that we will wage here. I know I will fight as if a cruel monster is sitting trying to drag my mother from her lovely home. I will stand on her steps and shout they shall not pass."
A spokesman for Christie did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the governor has said funding the pension at the level set in law would require raising taxes, something he opposes.
He also has called for an overhaul of the fund, suggesting freezing the current fund and transferring control from the state to the unions. The Democrat-led Legislature has balked at that approach.
Democratic lawmakers also attended the rally, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has proposed a tax on income over $1 million to help pay for pensions. Christie has vetoed similar measures previously and has said he would do the same again. Sweeney equated the reduced payments to stealing.
"If this was in the private sector, this would be theft," he said. "I am committed to fight this to the death."
State police estimated the crowd numbered just over 1,000 people, but added that the permit was for as many as 2,000.
Hundreds of protesters blast Christie over pension funding
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