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NJ Supreme Court Rules Against Christie’s Pension Reform For Judges

The State Supreme Court this morning ruled that judges do not have to pay more for the pensions and health benefits. This is a defeat for Governor Chris Christie, but one he saw coming. Last year, Hudson County judge Paul DePascale sued the state claiming the new law requiring judges to contribute more for the pensions and health violated another law that says, once established judges salaries cannot be reduced.

Peter Dazeley, Getty Images

Christie argued that what judges pay for the benefits is separate and aside from the salaries. The High Court ruled 3-2 against the State and for DePascale. Christie has said that if the court ruled against him he would consider asking the voters in a November ballot question if they’d like to change the constitution to require judges to contribute more.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon was one of the sponsors of the pension and health benefits reform law. He says, “I’m not happy about it (the ruling), but we’re going to have to live with it and figure out now what impact it’s going to have on the judges’ portion of the system. Does it have any implications for the legality of our reforms for other entities? It does not.”

“While I am disappointed in the Court’s ruling, it will not be the final word on this issue,” says State Senate President Steve Sweeney. “The reforms we passed last year are essential to ensuring the health and viability of every one of the state’s pension systems. My goal from the beginning has been to protect both the taxpayers who foot the bill and the public employees who were promised a pension. No one should be treated differently. The pension system of our judges can go bankrupt just as easily as any, and perhaps even more easily given its current poor health.”

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. says, “The pension and healthcare reform law does not diminish judges’ salaries as cited in the state constitution. Rather, it requires that judges’ contributions for their retirement benefits and healthcare keep up with the cost of providing them. The judicial pension system is in dire financial trouble that will be a tremendous burden to the taxpayers alone without increased contributions from judges themselves. Every single state employee in New Jersey is governed by the pension and healthcare reform law we passed last year, and judges should be no different.”

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