New Jersey judicial pension debate sent to voters for decision
Trenton, NJ: On July 30, the New Jersey State Legislature fast tracked a proposed constitutional amendment to the November 6th General Election ballot that would allow for increased deductions from judicial salaries to pay for contributions to pensions and other such benefits.
The issue started in June of 2011 when Governor Chris Christie helped pass legislation mandating contribution increases from all public workers to the the state's public pension funds. This included an increase in contributions to 12 percent of salary for judges and justices. Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale took the law to court, and on July 24, 2012 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that was the increase was unconstitutional specifically for judges. The majority opinion of Justices Jaynee LaVecchia, Barry Albin, and Dorothea Wefing stated it violated a state constitutional provision banning decreases in salaries during judicial appointments. Justices Anne Patterson and Helen Hoens dissented, saying pension was not part of salary, while Chief Justice Stuart Rabner recused himself.
Legislators reacted quickly to the Supreme Court decision by pushing through a bill in a special session for a proposed constitutional amendment allowing for the law to take effect. The bill, SCR110, passed the Senate 28-0 and the Assembly 62-3. Supporters of the amendment argue that the courts were acting in their own self-interest in the ruling, that the pension reform is necessary to help keep the public pension system solvent, and that voters should have a say in the matter. Opponents argue that the proposal is rash and could jeopardize the independence of the judiciary, noting the original constitutional article was put in place in with the 1947 State Constitution to help ensure the executive and legislative branches could not influence judicial decisions through the threat of monetary retribution.
The New Jersey Office of Legislative Services estimated that if Gov. Christie's law would go into effect for judges, it would amount to a contribution increase by judges of "$987,534 during the second half of State Fiscal Year 2013, $2.962 million during Fiscal Year 2014, and $3.950 million in Fiscal Year 2015."
The questions New Jersey voters will face in November specifically states:
|“||Do you approve an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, as agreed to by the Legislature, to allow contributions set by law to be taken from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges for their employee benefits||”|
- State ballot measures relating to the judiciary, 2012
- New Jersey Judicial Salary and Benefits Amendment (2012) (Ballotpedia)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Reuters, "New Jersey lawmakers approve judicial pension measure," July 30, 2012
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 NJ.com, "N.J. Legislature approves bill to let voters decide whether judges should pay more for benefits," July 30, 2012
- ↑ NJ.com, "Gov. Christie calls for constitutional amendment to cap judicial pay, benefits," October 18, 2011
- ↑ The New York Times, "Court Exempts Judges From New Jersey’s Curbs on Benefits," July 24, 2012
- ↑ New Jersey State Legislature, "Bills 2012-2013: SCR110"
- ↑ New Jersey State Legislature, "Legislative Fiscal Estimate Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 110 State Of New Jersey 215th Legislature," June 25, 2012
- ↑ New Jersey State Legislature, "Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 110 State Of New Jersey 215th Legislature Introduced May 14, 2012"