- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Thursday requiring New Jersey to make quarterly payments to its debt-laden pension, a schedule supporters say could lead to returns of up to $200 million because of the early investment.

Christie signed the bill that passed the Democrat-led Legislature unanimously Nov. 21. He gave no statement about the signing.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray said, “This compromise legislation provides a budget neutral approach to funding our state pension obligation each quarter and opens the door for future pension reforms.”

Currently the state’s payment is made once a year. The payments, which have increased yearly under an agreement between Christie and lawmakers, stem from years of underpayments from both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The roughly $70 billion fund supports about 800,000 workers and retirees.

The governor’s signature comes after Senate President Steve Sweeney forecast his confidence that Christie would sign the legislation after earlier criticizing a proposal calling for quarterly payments.

The idea for quarterly payments got new life in the state after Christie last year said a proposed constitutional amendment requiring quarterly payments amounted to a tax on the public to support unions. He viciously attacked the proposal at a business summit in New Jersey as he was waging a losing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Christie didn’t address his previous attacks on the proposed amendment during his regular radio call-in show on 101.5 FM, the day the Legislature passed the bill. He said he wanted to be sure the legislation did not burden taxpayers for the costs any loans the state might have to take out to cover the quarterly payments. Most of the state’s revenues come in early in the calendar year.

The proposed amendment stalled in the Legislature after initially getting mostly Democratic support. Republicans now say they support the idea because of key changes made in the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. said the current legislation gives the treasurer flexibility to make the payment within a quarterly window, rather than mandating it on a specific day. He also said a constitutional amendment could inappropriately tie the governor’s and Legislature’s hands.

“This is the best version that we’ve seen,” he said. “You limit the surprises and increase the predictability for all involved.”

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