|Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address in February. (Mel Evans | The Associated Press)
NJ.com - TRENTON - The Democratic leaders of New Jersey's legislative chambers intend to file a legal brief in support of public worker unions suing Gov. Chris Christie for underfunding the pension system.
The friend of the court brief, known as an amicus curiae, will be filed with the state Supreme Court, as first reported by NJ Advance Media. In it, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) weigh in on the side of the unions trying to force Christie to restore $1.57 billion in pension money he cut from the current fiscal year budget.
"We want to make it clear to the court that the administration's refusal to make the legally required pension payments violates the law and disregards legislative intent," they said in a statement. "The pension reform bill approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor is a law he can't choose to ignore."
The state has asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn a trial court ruling that that Gov. Chris Christie breached public worker's contractual right to full pension funding that was cemented in a 2011 law.
Christie has argued that law is invalid and that the superior court judge who upheld workers' contractual right to pension funding "fabricated a constitutional right to pension funding" that meddles in the powers belonging to the Legislature, governor and citizens.
The Democratic leaders said in the brief that they were "compelled" to weigh in in light of Christie's claims that the pension law he signed and championed is unconstitutional.
Prior to the 2011 law, workers had a right to receive benefits but not to funding. That law, the brief said, created that guarantee.
"The clear and unambiguous language of Chapter 78 shows that the law created a contractual obligation on the part of the state to make the annual required contribution and gives the members of the pension systems, or their respective boards of trustees, the right to bring an action in Superior Court... to enforce the contractual right of each employee," according to the brief.
Christie slashed the $2.25 billion payment to $681 million after tax collections came up short. He'd vetoed the Legislature's efforts to keep the pension payment whole by imposing a three-year tax on millionaires and a single-year corporation business tax surcharge.
The $2.25 billion figure was dictated under the 2011 pension law that raised the retirement age, suspended cost-of-living increases and asked workers to pay more into the system in exchange for the state's promise to work up to the full pension contribution recommended by actuaries.
Labor unions took Christie to court to force him to make the full payment, and Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled in February that Christie broke the law.
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are set for May 6.
"The fact that legislative leaders Sweeney and Prieto are joining the unions' lawsuit as a friend of the court strengthens our already strong case," Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said in a statement. "By committing to the lawsuit, the legislative leaders are demonstrating their belief that the governor must adequately fund the pension system to ensure its long-term viability."
This article appeared on NJ.com authored by Samantha Marcus.