A Republican-appointed judge on Monday ruled that Gov. Chris Christie’s $1.6 billion cut to state pension payments violated the pension law that the governor himself signed in 2011. The ruling, which comes one day before Christie is set to announce his 2015 budget, says the state must make the full payment, and it also ordered the state to reimburse public employee unions for the cost of bringing the suit.
Last year, Christie announced he was slashing the required pension contributions from the state. Christie made the move despite his 2011 law that the Republican governor’s administration “must make the annual required contribution on a timely basis” and that failure to do so is an impermissible “impairment” of public workers’ contractual rights.
In today’s ruling, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson -- a Democrat who was appointed in 2001 by Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman -- said: “The clear intent of this language was to insulate the State contributions into the pension funds from the vicissitudes of the political process that had placed the integrity of the funds in significant jeopardy in the past.” She noted that “State employees have continued to make increased contributions to the pension funds ... while the State’s required contributions to the funds have been severely truncated.”
Christie has said the pension cuts were necessary to balance the state’s budget and that “there are no alternatives” to such reductions. At the same time, he has backed record amounts of new corporate tax subsidies -- some of which flowed to Republican campaign contributors. He has also vetoed legislation to increase taxes on income above $1 million. That legislation was projected to raise $1.1 billion, which proponents said would have allowed the state to make its required pension contribution.
Christie’s spokesperson, Michael Drewniak, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Once again liberal judicial activism rears its head with the court trying to replace its own judgment for the judgment of the people who were elected to make these decisions. This budget was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor with a pension payment. The governor will continue to work on a practical solution to New Jersey's pension and health benefits problems while he appeals this decision to a higher court where we are confident the judgment of New Jersey's elected officials will be vindicated.”