TRENTON, N.J. - The pension lawsuit brought against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year is now in the hands of a judge following a five-hour hearing on Jan. 15.
Multiple public employee unions sued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year for not making previously approved pension payments. The Republican vetoed $1.57 billion in unfunded actuarial accrued liability pension payments from the fiscal 2015 budget in June.
New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Jean Reilly said that such a mandate for the state to make future payments would need to be approved by voters. Christie signed a law in 2011 to implement a ramp-up of the state's pension system funding over a seven-year period, but later changed his tune and said the state would make smaller payments in 2014 and 2015 due to a budget shortfall.
Mercer County Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson, who ruled last June that Christie could curb 2014 pension payments, disputed Reilly during her closing arguments by questioning whether the Christie administration had seriously considered alternative fiscal policies to create revenue that would avoid pension funding cuts.
"There didn't seem to be any proposals going back and forth," said Jacobson. "I don't see any effort to fill the gap."
Reilly said in response to Jacobson that Christie is scheduled to deliver a budget message on Feb. 24 and new funding ideas may be generated between the governor and legislators before then.
Steven Weissman, an attorney for the Communications Workers of America, emphasized that the legislature "created a contractual right to funding" when they voted to authorize the pension payments in 2011.
"These are preexisting obligations," said Weissman. "People deserve to be paid for compensation that they have earned. This is earned compensation."
Jacobson did not announce a timetable for when she will issue her ruling.
She stated in her previous decision regarding the 2014 pension payments delivered just days before the close of the fiscal year calendar that the state had few financial options in that short a period to balance its budget and "a different analysis could very well be required for fiscal year 2015."