Supreme Court rejects NJ employees' appeal over pension fund

AP News
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Posted: Feb 29, 2016 1:01 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court refused on Monday to disturb a ruling from New Jersey's top court that sided with Gov. Chris Christie in a legal fight with public worker unions over pension funds.

The justices did not comment in rejecting the unions' appeal. The high court order came less than three weeks after Christie ended his run for the Republican presidential nomination.

New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled last year that the state is obligated to pay individual retirees their pensions, but it overturned a lower court ruling that would have forced the state to come up with billions to pay promised pension benefits. New Jersey's pension fund has nearly $75 billion in unfunded liabilities, stemming from under payment by previous governors, both Democratic and Republican.

"At least we tried to hold the governor to his word, which means nothing. Anyone that believes anything he says is a fool," said Christopher Burgos, the president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association and the lead defendant in the case. "The highest court in the land has allowed lies and deceit to prevail in this case, and once again, workers suffer at the hands of selfish union busting politics by the rich and powerful."

Christie's office didn't immediately return a request seeking comment.

The state ruling last year allowed Christie to propose making a roughly $1.9 billion payment to the pension fund in his 2017 fiscal year budget, well below the roughly $3.8 billion payment he and the Legislature agreed to in 2011 legislation.

Christie backed away from those payments after revenues dropped below projections in the previous two fiscal years. After public worker unions sued, the state Supreme Court declined to force him to make the payments in the exact amounts called for in the statute.

Democrats welcome the payment because they're including a version of Christie's payment schedule in a proposed constitutional amendment to require quarterly payments.

A commission empaneled by Christie last year recommended another overhaul and said that unions and Democrats are missing an opportunity to rework a system that could be depleted for public school teachers and state employees by the next decade.

Those changes would include turning the benefits into a 401(k)-style plan rather than a traditional pension, reducing the quality and cost of health benefits and turning control of the plans over to the unions, rather than leaving them under state management. The commission this month issued a new report saying cutting health benefits could save the state more than $2 billion.