New Jersey’s top court sided with Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday in a legal fight with public worker unions over pension funds, sparing a state budget crisis this month but leaving unanswered questions about how the state will pay for the promised pensions as Christie prepares to announce whether he’ll run for president.
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.
A decision in the unions’ favor likely would have sparked a contentious scramble to come up with billions of dollars that Christie has repeatedly insisted the state doesn’t have, while drawing additional attention to New Jersey’s fiscal problems, which Christie’s rivals are sure to point to often if he chooses to run.
In a 5-2 ruling, the court said that state constitutional provisions calling for an annual budget process trump a 2011 law requiring high pension contributions from the state.
“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.”
Christie hailed the ruling from a court with which he has had major disagreements in the past.