As reported by NJ.com, a key State Senate Committee approved legislation to ask voters to revise the New Jersey Constitution to require the State to ratchet up contributions to the public pension system. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee cleared the resolution along party lines, with Republicans’ opposition rooted in protecting taxpayers from severe spending cuts or tax hikes if the State economy is sluggish. Democrats, who control both houses, don’t need Republican support to put the question on the ballot. Governor Chris Christie also has no say in referendums.
If it wins voter approval next fall, the constitutional amendment would make annual payments for government workers’ pensions mandatory and remove it from the annual budget appropriations process. It’s a guarantee public workers had thought they secured under a 2011 pension reform law that committed the State to gradually paying more over seven years until it was making the full contribution recommended by actuaries. But the State Supreme Court ruled in June that the Legislature couldn’t be bound in that way.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced legislation Monday that would give government workers’ pensions the constitutional protection that has eluded them and sunk the pension fund deeper into debt. In short, Sweeney’s resolution is an answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling, replacing what he said turned out to be an empty promise with a constitutional one.
Trenton is gridlocked over how to repair a public pension system that is $40 billion short on what it would cost to pay for future benefits. Christie has called for a sweeping overhaul of all worker retirement benefits, while Democrats and labor leaders demand proper funding from the State. Sweeney introduced the resolution, saying the State needs to keep that promise to the 800,000 current and retired workers counting on this retirement income, and warning that failing to act now will have deleterious effects later. Sweeney also said he was confident that New Jersey’s economic expansion will give the State the money it needs to make the payments.
The proposed amendment reads: “Do you approve amending the constitution to require the State to make its payment to the pension systems for public employees each year and to establish in the constitution the rights of public employees vested in these pension systems to receive earned pension benefits? The State would have until July 1, 2021 to start making each year’s pension payment in full. Until then, the State would make a partial, but increasing, payment each year. The payment would be make on a quarterly basis.”