As reported by NJ.com, 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.