As reported by NJ.com, a referendum to amend the New Jersey Constitution to require the State to make contributions to public worker pensions cleared the State Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday during a discussion that drew sharp criticism from a Republican lawmaker.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) faulted Democrats for pushing the legislation through without proper vetting and input from Treasury officials and Wall Street analysts. “This is where bad governing comes into play, and having four constitutional amendments crammed down people in New Jersey’s throat with no forewarning is a really, really bad way to do things,” said Schepisi, who voted against a Democratic-backed resolution that was introduced last week.
“Do I believe that our pension needs to be funded? Absolutely,” she added. “Do I believe that we should constitutionally do something that we as legislators don’t even understand the implications of, I think is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that we could do. And if we don’t understand the implications of it, how in God’s name is the average citizen that we represent supposed to understand it.”
The proposal was supported Thursday by labor leaders who said the constitutional amendment is vital given the State’s record on dodging full pension payments the past two decades, contributing to a $40 billion unfunded liability. A key State Senate committee on Thursday approved legislation to ask voters to revise the New Jersey Constitution to require the State ratchet up contributions into the public pension system.
“For more than 20 years we have struggled to get this pension payment regularly and consistently paid,” said Hetty Rosenstein, State Director of the Communications Workers of America. Rosenstein said that unions thought that was going to happen following a 2011 reform law that promised the payments in return for higher contributions from workers. But Governor Chris Christie scratched that plan after two years of slow economic growth. The State Supreme Court sided with the Governor this summer.
“New Jersey couldn’t even manage to keep its word for more than two years,” Rosenstein said. “Now there is a finance disaster looming, not only for our members but for the entire State of New Jersey. Because only one of two things can happen if the payments to the plan are not made: either the pension goes broke and $9 billion a year has to be taken out of the general funds, or the pension goes broke and the State of New Jersey tries to renege on paying $9 billion out of the general fund, and 800,000 people lose their benefits.”
The amendment would require the State to follow a newly revised funding schedule. The Democrats’ payment plan is a riff on the plan Governor Chris Christie set the State on this year, when he included in the State budget a $1.3 billion pension payment, which is only about 30 percent of the full amount actuaries recommend. Under the newest plan, the State would continue down that road for two more years, while Christie is Governor, and backload larger payments from 2019 to 2022, when the State reaches the full $5.6 billion payment recommended by actuaries. Payments would increase by 10 percent of the full payment each year in 2017 and 2018, before the rate of increase accelerates to 12.5 percent.