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In The Press

Montreal Gazette

Christie betting that lottery can bail out troubled pensions

Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is betting that the lottery is the ticket to shoring up one of the state's most vexing money problems: ever-growing obligations to the pensions for public employees.

The idea of linking the lottery to pensions has been around for years, but legislation backed by the Republican governor was introduced this week to make the lottery the property of the pension system for 30 years.

Analysts and advocates say the deal — an arrangement that would be unique to New Jersey — probably won't hurt, but there's not a consensus on how much it might help.

"Where it does provide tremendous relief is optically," said Lisa Washburn, managing director at Municipal Market Analytics, a firm that analyzes government bonds. "The numbers look better on a whole lot of levels. Whether or not they're truly better is questionable."

Since Christie took office in 2010, the state has contributed more than $6 billion to retirement funds to which past governors have often skimped on payments — or skipped them entirely. Still, the gap between the money expected to be in the funds and that which is owed to retirees has only grown. By any measure, it's among the biggest unfunded pension liabilities in the country.

Trying to solve the problem makes it harder for officials to expand other government services or make major tax cuts.

Tim Holler