Saturday, November 1st, 2014
False
Menendez
Says Joe Kyrillos "voted to raid the state's pension funds by $2.8 billion that is costing New Jersey taxpayers still today to the tune of nearly $15 billion dollars to repay that money."

Robert Menendez on Friday, June 8th, 2012 in an interview on NJTV’s “On the Record”

Robert Menendez claims Joe Kyrillos voted to raid pension funds by $2.8 billion

Watch Interviews with Sen Bob Menendez on PBS. See more from On the Record.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez talks to host Michael Aron on NJTV's "On the Record." Go to 04:56 to listen to their exchange about debt.

A theme is emerging in New Jersey’s U.S. Senate race: opponents blaming one another for bloating government debt.

Republican challenger state Sen. Joe Kyrillos has tied U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez to growth in the national debt and deficits. In an interview on NJTV’s "On the Record" that aired June 8, Menendez, a Democrat, responded to those charges.

"Well first of all, evidently my Republican opponent has selective memory," Menendez said, first citing growth in state debt under Kyrillos’ watch.

Then, Menendez said: "Here's someone who raided the state's -- voted to raid the state's pension funds by $2.8 billion that is costing New Jersey taxpayers still today to the tune of nearly $15 billion dollars to repay that money."

Kyrillos helped pushed through a controversial plan in 1997 from then-Gov. Christie Whitman to sell nearly $2.8 billion in bonds in a bid to cover unfunded liabilities in the state’s pension system.

To be clear, we are not ruling on whether the pension bonds were sound fiscal policy. We are also not ruling on Whitman’s overall impact on the pension system. We’re looking at two, specific claims: whether voting for the bonds constituted a $2.8 billion raid on the pension system and whether they are costing taxpayers $15 billion to pay off.

Both statements veer from the truth, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

The bond legislation -- approved on June 5, 1997, with Kyrillos voting in favor of it -- authorized the state’s Economic Development Authority to sell $2.75 billion in bonds, the proceeds of which were deposited in state retirement funds for public workers.

A separate, companion bill changed accounting rules for the pension system and allowed the state and local employers to reduce their normal contributions by the amount of surplus in the funds.

The move allowed Whitman to avoid making nearly $600 million in payments into the pension system that year, which helped balance her budget.

Melissa Castro, a spokeswoman for the Menendez campaign, said "skipping scheduled payments into the pension system is a raid of pension funds, because by definition, it is reducing the total funds available to pay the funds' obligations."

Whitman skipped payments that year -- as she did in others -- but she put nearly $2.8 billion of borrowed money in the funds. That does not fit the definition of a raid.

Now, what’s the final price tag for those pension bonds, which mature in 2029?

Menendez put the tab at nearly $15 billion. According to the state Treasury Department, the bonds -- which the state is paying more than 7 percent interest on -- will cost $10.1 billion to pay off. The general fund shoulders the burden of the bond payments, not the pension system.

Treasury Department spokesman Andy Pratt said it’s unfair to look at the expense of the bonds without also considering the investment interest the money is earning. The average rate of return has been 6.36 percent a year, Pratt said.

Ultimately, the state’s general fund is still on the hook for $10.1 billion. In the upcoming budget, debt service on the bonds will cost nearly $300 million.

Castro said whether it was $15 billion or $10 billion, Menendez is still correct on his fundamental point. "Nevertheless this is still bad fiscal policy," she said.

Our ruling

Menendez said Kyrillos "voted to raid the state's pension funds by $2.8 billion that is costing New Jersey taxpayers still today to the tune of nearly $15 billion dollars to repay that money."

Kyrillos voted in favor of borrowing $2.75 billion to put into the state’s pension funds. The move allowed Whitman to avoid nearly $600 million in pension payments that year, but overall, money went into the system, not out of it. To call it a vote to raid pension funds by $2.8 billion is inaccurate.

Also, the bonds will cost taxpayers, in total, about $10.1 billion, not $15 billion.

We rate this claim False.

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