As reported by NJ.com, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed to decide whether Governor Chris Christie broke the law when he slashed $1.6 billion from this year’s payment into the public worker pension system. Christie’s administration, which had previously indicated it would file in the Appellate Division, last week asked the Supreme Court to relax its rules and hear the case. The Supreme Court today granted Christie’s motion. Oral argument will be held May 6.
The State is appealing a February Superior Court ruling that it broke a contract with labor unions when Christie diverted $1.57 billion in planned pension funds to fill a budget deficit. Judge Mary Jacobson ordered Christie to work with the Democratic-controlled legislature to restore the full payment. Some lawmakers and Christie’s administration have argued that coming up with that cash with just a few months left in the fiscal year would be crippling. But, Jacobson wrote in her ruling, “the court is unwilling to rely on what has now become a succession of empty promises.” Attorneys for Christie had argued before Jacobson that the contract was invalid from the start and the Governor cannot be forced to restore the payment.
The law at the center of the dispute required the State to ramp up payments into the struggling pension system over seven years. Christie slashed payments in the fiscal year ending last June and the fiscal year beginning last July when tax collections came up short. In requesting the High Court’s ear, the State noted that the case invokes federal and state constitutional provisions, separation of powers, the State’s appropriations, veto, debt limitation and contracts clauses. “Billions of dollars are at issue,” the State said, “and the ultimate adjudication of this matter will critically impact the State’s budget and appropriation processes.”