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The state Supreme Court overturned a lower-court judge's order that told the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature to work out a way to increase pension contributions for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
In a 5-2 ruling, the court said there wasn't an enforceable contract to force the full payment, as unions had argued there was.
"That the State must get its financial house in order is plain," Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in the majority opinion. "The need is compelling in respect of the State's ability to honor its compensation commitment to retired employees. But this Court cannot resolve that need in place of the political branches. They will have to deal with one another to forge a solution to the tenuous financial status of New Jersey's pension funding in a way that comports with the strictures of our Constitution."
She noted that the state is obligated to pay individual retirees their pensions. That's not in danger this year, but unions say the funds could start going insolvent within the next decade.
Justice Barry Albin dissented and was joined by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
"The decision unfairly requires public workers to uphold their end of the law's bargain — increased weekly deductions from their paychecks to fund their future pensions — while allowing the State to slip from its binding commitment to make commensurate contributions," Albin wrote. "Thus, public workers continue to pay into a system on its way to insolvency."
One of Christie's signature achievements as governor has been a 2011 deal on pensions for public workers. Employees had to pay more and the government was locked into making up for years of skipped or reduced contributions.
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