As reported by nj.com, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver have no plans to post a constitutional amendment ensuring judges are subject to increases in pension and benefit payments proposed by Governor Chris Christie. “I am not inclined to support pursuing a constitutional amendment,” Oliver said. “It sets a very unhealthy precedent.”
Christie’s call for an amendment to the state Constitution stems from a decision issued by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg, who wrote requiring judges to pay more for pension and benefits is an indirect reduction in salary. The state Constitution prohibits pay cuts for judges and justices. The amendment would define justices and judges’ salary as exclusively salary, not encompassing pension and benefit payments.
Without support from Sweeney and Oliver, both of whom spearheaded the changes for public workers in June, Christie’s proposal is dead in the water. While Oliver said she is not inclined to post the amendment under any circumstances, Sweeney said he will re-evaluate based on the decisions of the higher courts. “Changing the Constitution based on one decision may not be warranted,” Sweeney said in a statement. “After the appeals process has been completed, the legislature will then determine the appropriate reaction, if any.”
In a press conference, Christie personally attacked Feinberg and called the decision “self-interested,” “outrageous” and “extraordinary hubris.” “Judge Feinberg’s decision yesterday, in addition to being legally indefensible, is morally indefensible,” Christie said. “If the courts will not fix this problem, then the Legislature has to give the people the opportunity to fix this problem.”
Christie said he will send language for a constitutional amendment to legislative leaders by the end of this week. He wants the Legislature to act in the lame-duck session after the November election, so the measure appears on the November 2012 ballot when voter turnout is highest.
To be on the ballot, a constitutional amendment must be approved by three-fifths of each house in the Legislature, 24 senators, and 48 assemblymen. Or, it can be approved by a majority of legislators in two consecutive legislative years. Once on the ballot, a simple majority of voters must approve the amendment.