N.J. panel advances plan for requiring quarterly state payments to pension system

New Jersey public workers hold signs during a StateHouse rally  last year to protest Gov. Chris Christie's pension funding reductions. State lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to require quarterly state payments to the pension system. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

New Jersey public workers hold signs during a StateHouse rally last year to protest Gov. Chris Christie's pension funding reductions. State lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to require quarterly state payments to the pension system. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature are pushing for a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot that would require the state to make quarterly payments into the public employee pension fund.

The amendment would be a way to ensure the state honors its pension obligations, said New Jersey Education Association president Wendell Steinhauer.

“It’s the only solution that’s strong enough to overcome 20 years of political failures and broken promises,” he said. “It’s the only solution that puts the state on a path toward real fiscal responsibility.”

But without growth in state revenues, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce president Tom Bracken said, mandating pension payments could jeopardize the state’s economic recovery and hurt residents.

“The issue of reducing services is on the table, and I’m not sure anybody wants to reduce the services to our citizens any more than has been reduced,” he said.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday voted along party lines to advance the measure.

Assemblyman Joe Lagana is one of the Democrats supporting it.

“Unless forced to, the state will not make these payments,” said Lagana, D-Bergen. “That’s why we’re at this juncture right now.”

Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, however, worried that constitutionally requiring the pension payments could result in massive tax increases.

“I would like to vote for this but I can’t do it in the absence of a provision that ensures that we do not raise taxes to do it,”said Carroll, R-Morris.

If the proposed constitutional amendment does appear on the November ballot and is approved by voters, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman John McKeon says more long-term changes will have to be negotiated with unions to ensure the pension system’s solvency.

“I fully expect that if the voters of this state support this, that the unions will again come back to the table and understand that there’s more than needs to be done,” said McKeon, D-Essex.

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