Senate Panel Advances Constitutional Amendment Effort For Judicial Pension Reform

TRENTON – The Senate Labor Committee held a public hearing today in response to Tuesday’s state Supreme Court ruling that sitting judges can’t be required to pay a larger share of the pension and benefit costs.

Lawmakers promised to let voters decide if judges should be exempt from efforts to rein in rising pension liabilities. In a 3-2 decision, the Court ruled that a constitutional prohibition against reducing a judge’s salary during their term in office meant that judges could not be required to pay a larger share of their pension and benefit costs.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Shirley Turner, both Democrats, have sponsored an amendment that would clarify the Legislature’s authority to impose pension and benefit reform on judges and justices. The measure has bipartisan support.

“The state’s pension funds are in serious financial trouble, and the burden of making them solvent should not fall exclusively upon the taxpayers of New Jersey,” said state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R- Burlington/Camden/Atlantic). “Judges should share in the sacrifice needed to save their retirement system just like every other public employee. The Judicial Retirement System is the most generous in state government and cannot be sustained at current levels without asking more of those who stand to benefit from it.”

Voting sessions are scheduled in both houses on Monday. The proposed amendment needs to pass by a three-fifths majority so it can appear on the November general election ballot.

The New Jersey State Bar Association opposes the measure, issuing a statement saying that the amendment “represents a rash reaction to a Supreme Court decision and a dangerous intrusion by one branch of government into the independence of another, co-equal branch of government. Such a swift reaction – coming a mere day after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature’s prior action was unconstitutional – illustrates exactly why these pending Resolutions are ill-advised.”

“[J]udges are not covered by any collective bargaining agreement that provides for increases in salaries or benefits over time — whether those increases are tied to cost of living increases of otherwise,” the NJSBA argues. “Thus, there is no guarantee that judges would have an opportunity to recoup any deducted amounts over time. Judges must rely on future legislative action for any compensation increases; they should not also have to be fearful of legislative action resulting in compensation decreases.”

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