TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The security guards at the headquarters of New Jersey's pension fund have never seen anything like it before: lines of public employees extending out the door and into the street.
Day after day, workers come in droves to apply for retirement. They often line up before dawn.
The rush has been set off in part by Republican Gov. Chris Christie's campaign in this cash-strapped state to make government employment — and retirement — less lucrative.
Since 2008, New Jersey and at least 19 other states from Wyoming to Rhode Island have rolled back pension benefits or seriously considered doing so — and not just for new hires, but for current employees and people already retired.
After telegraphing his intentions for months, Christie spelled out the details of his proposal Tuesday. They include: repealing an increase in benefits approved years ago; eliminating automatic cost-of-living adjustments; raising the retirement age to 65 from 60 in many cases; reducing pension payouts for many future retirees; and requiring some employees to contribute more to their pensions.
"We must reverse the damage caused by fairy-tale promises that have fattened benefits and pensions to unsustainable levels," the governor said.
To be sure, the looming benefit changes are not the only reason many public employees in New Jersey are retiring. Some say they want out for the usual reasons — to spend time with the grandchildren or go fishing, for example — or complain that government layoffs and other cutbacks are making work unbearable. But other employees figure that by retiring now, they can lock in certain benefits before it is too late.