As reported by nj.com, the Christie administration touted big savings for local governments because of pension reforms as state employees and a judge tussled over lawsuits challenging new requirements for them to pay more their benefits.
The controversial public benefits overhaul, signed by Governor Chris Christie in June, shifts a greater share of the costs onto public workers. Yesterday, the Governor’s office said local governments across New Jersey will save $267 million in pension costs, according to figures provided by the state’s Treasury Department. Supporters said the move was necessary to help save the cash-strapped pension system for future retirees and to help ease the burden on local governments. The calculation takes into account the amount local public employees pay into the fund, but does not include judges’ pensions. The largest savings, about $220 million, comes from increased contributions to the police and firefighters’ pension fund.
The benefits reforms are being challenged in court. Yesterday, a state Superior Court judge ruled a group of state employees cannot have their suit considered jointly with a judge who claims the additional contributions are unconstitutional. Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg in Trenton said the cases, one brought by Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale and another filed by seven state workers, are not similar enough to combine into one legal challenge.
After deciding against consolidating the cases, Feinberg heard arguments on whether she should block the implementation of the contribution increases for judges and justices. The new law was enacted June 28 but the pay deductions take effect October 14.
In adopting the new law, the state Legislature did not change the statute that sets judges’ salaries, Assistant Attorney General Robert Loughy said. Their salaries remain intact, but their salary deductions to pay for the benefits are increasing, he said. “If you have a mandatory pension program and that’s coming out of your salary, it’s a diminution of salary,” Feinberg challenged Loughy. “It’s a deduction from salary,” he countered.
Until now, any increases to health benefits or pension contributions for judges have been accompanied by pay increases, argued DePascale’s attorney. Judges contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health care benefits. The new law requires them to pay 35 percent of the premium cost. DePascale, who earns $165,000, has said that would more than double his contribution to $5,230.86. He also said added pension contributions would, after a phase in, increase his biweekly deductions from $126.44 to $687.59.