NJ State Supreme Court: Gov Christie can cut pension payments

New Jersey’s top court has sided with Gov. Chris Christie in a fight with public worker unions over pension funds.

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a lower-court judge’s order that told the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature to work out a way to increase pension contributions for the current fiscal year. That ends June 30. 

From today’s 5-2 ruling: 

“Although plaintiffs correctly assert that a promise was made by the legislative and executive branches when enacting Chapter 78, and morally their argument is unassailable, we conclude that Chapter 78 could not create the type of legally enforceable contract that plaintiffs argue, and the trial court found.”

One of Christie’s signature achievements as governor has been a 2011 deal on pensions for public workers. Employees had to pay more and the government was locked into making up for years of skipped or reduced contributions.

Christie reduced the state’s payment last year amid a surprise tax revenue shortfall.

New Jersey’s teachers union blasted today’s ruling calling it indefensible. “The only beneficiary of this ruling is Gov. Christie, who can continue to deceive New Jersey residents into believing that his budgets have been balanced.  For anyone who will be in New Jersey after 2017, the cost of his deception will be staggering,” said New Jersey Education AssociationPresident Wendell Steinhauer.

The president of the N.J.’s State Policeman’s Benevolent Association now wants the legislature to honor the spirit of the 2011 pension funding agreement. 

Hetty Rosenstein, the New Jersey president of Communication Workers of America, says union groups will now look into whether they can appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

If not, she said she would look into changing the state constitution or laws to make sure workers’ pensions remain intact.

Gov. Chris Christie says today’s ruling is an important victory for the state’s residents. 

“This decision is an important victory not only for our taxpayers who simply cannot afford these unsustainably high costs, but for limited, constitutional government that recognizes the proper role of the executive and legislative branches of government. The Court’s position is clear, as is mine, it is time to move forward and work together to find a tangible, long-term solution to make our pension system and public employee health benefit costs affordable and sustainable for generations to come. In light of today’s decision, I urge all interested parties to come back to the table and partner with me to finally solve this problem once and for all,” said Christie. 

______________________________________________________

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.