As reported by, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced legislation that would cement state officials’ promises to fund government workers’ pensions in the New Jersey constitution.  Such a constitutional amendment requiring the State to make payments into the public retirement fund was expected to be the next step after the State Supreme Court this summer dismantled a 2011 pension law that established a pension payment plan to strengthen the system.

Governor Christie fell behind on pension payments in the 2011 law within three years and labor unions took him to Court.  The State Supreme Court ultimately sided with Christie, sparing him from scraping together billions of dollars in the coming years. That case turned on whether the law created a contractual right to pension funding for 770,000 current and retired workers.  The justices said the law does not create a “legally binding, enforceable obligation” for the State to make payments into the system and the State cannot be bound to such large future payments without voter approval. Labor leaders said they would seek the Legislature’s help in securing the constitutional protection that has eluded them.

Sweeney’s announcement immediately drew praise from the union leaders who’ve condemned Christie’s cuts and protested and sued for full pension contributions.  Sweeney’s proposed constitutional amendment would go before the voters for approval next November when the presidential race tops the ballot and turnout is at its highest.

Sweeney’s proposal rests the clock again, putting a new timeline into the State Constitution, with the State making the full actuarial contribution by 2022, one year sooner than Christie’s unofficial payment plan.  To this end, the State would be paying about $3 billion by 2018, nearly as much as the State would have been required to pay this year under the now-fractured 2011 law.  Each year, the State would have to come up with about $600 million more than the year before, according to Treasury estimates.

Sweeney is also calling for the amendment to force the State to make the contribution into the retirement fund in installments throughout the year.  Waiting until year’s end costs the State millions of dollars in investment earnings and has, in the past, made it vulnerable to last minute cuts.  “This constitutional amendment protects taxpayers by requiring that pension payments be made on a quarterly basis to maximize investment earnings and to protect public employees by guaranteeing the pension benefits they earned,” Sweeney said in a statement. His office estimated the quarterly installments could save taxpayers $8.5 billion over 30 years.

Please continue to check this blog periodically to ascertain updates regarding this legislation.  As you know, any such constitutional amendment could have an enormous impact on New Jersey public safety officers and the health of the pension systems going forward.

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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.