More than a dozen unions have sued the state of New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie trying to prevent him from withholding state payments to the $76.8 billion New Jersey Pension Fund, Trenton, for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2015.
The lawsuits seek to block the governor's decision, announced May 20, to withhold a majority of the payments for the two fiscal years. The governor and the state Legislature had agreed several years ago that he would make the payments in return for legislation that, among other things, raised the retirement age for certain public employees and required employees to pay more for their pensions.
However, the governor said that an unanticipated shortfall in revenue forced him to take action to withhold payments in order to balance the budgets for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year.
Three separate lawsuits have been filed — last week and early this week — in New Jersey's Superior Court for Mercer County in Trenton seeking to overturn the governor's withholding of the state payments. The lawsuits have 14 union plaintiffs plus several public employees.
Attorney Craig Gumpel said in an interview Tuesday he expects the lawsuits to be consolidated for a hearing June 25 before Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson. Mr. Gumpel represents in the same lawsuit the New Jersey State Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association and several employees who are plaintiffs in one lawsuit filed by several unions, including the New Jersey Education Association.
“This case presents this court with a fiat by the governor,” the lawsuit said. “The governor refuses to allow the release of already appropriated money that is mandated to be paid this fiscal year.”
Mr. Christie said he would cut the payment for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, to $696 million from the promised $1.58 billion. He also proposed cutting the state contribution for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, to $681 million from the promised $2.25 billion. This proposal is subject to passage of a budget for the next fiscal year.
The governor issued an executive order on May 20, saying he could take necessary action to make sure the state complies with the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget.
Mr. Christie said at a news conference Monday, “there is no Plan B” if the courts rule against him. “This is the plan, and I am completely confident that this plan will be supported from whatever legal challenge that it goes after,” he said.