As reported by, 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.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.