N.J. Public Pensions Battle Goes Down to the Wire


New Jersey’s long-running public pensions battle, pitting GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts and broken promises against thousands of state and local workers and retirees who may see their pensions slashed, is going down to the wire.

At issue: Whether the Democratic-run state Legislature, which acted in concert with Christie before, will move in time to get a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the state must make the pension payments onto the Nov. 8 ballot. The deadline is Aug. 9.

And to make sure they do so do so, thousands of workers, led by the Communications Workers and the New Jersey Education Association, rallied this week in Trenton.

The fight over the pensions affects at least 60,000 Garden State workers in state and local governments, their families and retirees. But it’s also part of a nationwide business, right wing and Republican movement to trash public workers, cut their pay and kill their pensions. Other GOP-led state governments are watching New Jersey for a cue to future outcomes.

“It’s been over two decades since any administration – Republican or Democratic – made a full pension payment,” said CWA State Director Hetty Rosenstein. “The fact that Senate President (Steve) Sweeney – at the 11th hour – will not post it for a vote is the exact reason we’re demanding a constitutional amendment.”

Sweeney, a Democrat, also said “There’s always next year” for the pension referendum. That angered NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, who replied: “Sweeney made a promise to our members the pension amendment would happen this year. Next year isn’t good enough. He needs to decide whether he’s going to lead or just roll over and be part of the problem.

“New Jersey has too many politicians who have broken pension promises. We need a leader who will keep the promise. We will not accept anything less than the amendment he promised this year,” he said. Before the rally, NJEA members flooded state lawmakers with phone calls and e-mails. “New Jersey doesn’t need another politician who tells pension lies,” Steinhauer said.

The pension battle began several years ago when Christie claimed the state not only wouldn’t pay its part of the pensions, but couldn’t afford to do so. He pressured Sweeney and the legislators into a compromise, including future state payments, then reneged. The unions, including police and Fire Fighter unions, sued for the pensions, won in lower courts, but lost in state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.