Attorneys for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said his decision to withhold certain state payments to the New Jersey Pension Fund, Trenton, for the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year is legally permissible so he can meet his constitutional duties of preparing balanced budgets.
The governor's response is contained in a 103-page legal brief defending his actions against three separate lawsuits filed by 14 unions and several public employees asking a state court judge to order Mr. Christie to make full state payments to the $76.8 billion New Jersey Pension Fund for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2015.
The lawsuits have been consolidated into a single case for which oral arguments will be held June 25 before Judge Mary Jacobson of New Jersey Superior Court in Trenton.
“Any decision by this court that enjoins, interferes with or places conditions on the governor's discharge of his constitutionally mandated duty to ensure that expenditures do not exceed revenues would be an impermissible trespass by the judiciary into the essential functions of the executive branch,” said the governor's brief filed late Wednesdayby the state's acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and by Assistant Attorney General Jean P. Reilly.
“Plaintiffs invite the court to rule in contravention of constitutional restraints concerning debt limitations, appropriations and separation of powers,” the governor's legal brief said.
In light of an unexpected “staggering revenue shortfall so late in the fiscal year,” the document said the governor had “carefully crafted a remedy that preserves essential services for the state's most vulnerable populations … and maintains a balanced budget in conformity with constitutional mandate.”
On May 20, Mr. Christie said he would cut the state's pension fund payment for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, to $696 million from the promised $1.58 billion.
He also proposed cutting, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, the state contribution to $681 million from the promised $2.25 billion. This proposal is subject to passage of a budget for the next fiscal year, and the Legislature and governor must agree on a budget for the next fiscal year by June 30.
The governor issued an executive order May 20, saying he could take necessary action to make sure the state complies with the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget.
The three lawsuits seeking state payments of the full amounts to the New Jersey Pension Fund cite the agreement between the governor and Legislature several years ago. The state would make the payments in return for passage of a law making certain pension system changes, such as raising the retirement age for some public employees and requiring employees to make higher contributions toward their pensions.