Christie Lawyers: The Word “Contract” Means Little In Context of Pension Payments

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New Jersey lawyers were in court last week attempting to convince a judge that the state should not have to pay about $1.5 billion worth of slashed pension contributions.

In February, a court sided with unions who argued that the state was contractually obligated to make approximately $1.5 billion in missed pension payments.

Lawyers for the Chris Christie administration are appealing that decision, and arguing that “contract” isn’t a magic word that allows laws to subvert the constitution, according to a brief filed Friday.

From NJ.com:

Christie’s lawyers argued in the brief that unions are using the contract label to bulldoze over the appropriations, veto and debt limitation clauses in the state constitution.

“If the funding right in Chapter 78 were stripped of all reference to contract, it would plainly be subject to appropriation and unenforceable,” the brief said. “The mere addition of contract terminology changes nothing.”

A trial court in February determined Christie had broken the pension law, and ordered him to work with the Legislature to meet the terms of the agreement, which require the state to ramp up payments into the system over seven years.

If the state Supreme Court upholds that right, it would bind the hands of future lawmakers and burden New Jerseyans with debt without their consent, the state argued, adding that both are forbidden under the constitution.

“The Legislature cannot, through statutory enactment, create a contract that restrains the constitutionally enshrined power of future legislators to appropriate funds and of future governors to line-item veto appropriations,” the brief said. “Nor can the Legislature create an obligation for payments spanning decades without the consent of the state’s citizens.”

Lawyers also argued that giving the funding arrangement constitutional protection would entangle the courts in the state’s budget and throw the process into chaos.

For a taste of the other side of the argument, watch NJEA president Wendell Steinhauer discuss the court case here.

 

Photo by Juli via Flickr CC License

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