WASHINGTON (PAI) – Now, the future of public workers’ pensions in New Jersey may well be up to the Garden State’s voters.
That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 29, without comment, let stand a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling upholding GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s pension cuts.
The justices’ decision disappointed the Communications Workers, who represent 60,000 state and local government workers in New Jersey. They’re the largest state workers’ union and co-led the union coalition that challenged Christie’s decision in court. The president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association was also upset, blasting Christie’s “lies and deceit.”
And in anticipation of a negative result, the unions have already started a petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot, demanding full state funding of the pensions within a decade. New Jersey’s pensions are 40 percent underfunded.
In 2011, Christie forced the Democratic-run legislature to increase workers’ pension contributions, end cost-of-living hikes and raise the retirement age, in return for a law mandating the state would catch up on its underfunding. Two years later, he reneged, claiming budget problems. The unions sued for full funding. They won in lower courts, but lost 5-2 in state Supreme Court and now in the U.S. Supreme Court. The pension laws cover 770,000 state and local workers and retirees.
“We said we’ll leave no stone unturned here to protect these pensions, and that’s what we did,” Communications Workers State Director Hetty Rosenstein told local media. “It just means what we already knew, which is that we have to protect the funding for these pensions by giving these pensions the same protections they would have in the private sector” through the constitutional amendment.
The unions and their allies will have to overcome not just Christie, but the state’s business community. Just after the justices’ ruling, the state Chamber of Commerce led a raft of business organizations in saying they would oppose the constitutional amendment – along with other pro-worker ideas, such as a $15 state minimum wage which lawmakers introduced in late February.
Photo: Chris Christie. | Julio Cortez/AP