TRENTON – The Senate this morning passed the measure that ultimately could require judges to contribute more to their pensions. It was approved by a vote of 28-0.
The Senate passed SCR110, then sent it down the hallway to the Assembly for that chamber’s vote.
The move to attempt to change the Constitution was spurred by the state Supreme Court ruling a week ago that said it is unconstitutional to tamper with salaries of sitting judges, and that the state’s 2011 overhaul of pensions and benefits for public employees can’t be used to force judges to contribute higher amounts to their pensions.
The amendment is sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), Trenton and has bipartisan support. It unanimously cleared a Senate committee in June.
It would allow voters to clarify the Legislature’s authority to pass laws regarding taking contributions from justices’ and certain judges’ salaries for employee benefits.
The proposed amendment needed a three-fifths majority vote – 24 in the Senate and 48 in the Assembly – before it can appear on the November ballot.
Turner said that this is about fairness for all residents of the state.
“How is it fair to our taxpayers who would have to pick up the pieces if this pension (system) goes bankrupt?,’’ she asked in criticizing the rich pensions that she said judges receive. She said it is only fair that judges share in the sacrifice the rest of the public employees have to make.
“These are tough times, tough for everyone in this state,’’ Turner said. “We’re asking here for simple fairness.”
And Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Union, said that he has sponsored three constitutional amendments during his time, two of which voters eventually approved, including measures related to sports betting and borrowing.
“The Constitution is a living document, meant to change from time to time,’’ he said. “Amending our Constitution to make judges pay more will not threaten the independence of our judiciary.”
“These people cannot understand plain English,’’ Sen. Sam Thompson, (R-12), Old Bridge, said of the justices’ ruling that pension is part of salary and that increasing their pension contribution is a diminution of their salary.
All 28 senators present voted in the affirmative. There were 12 senators not present: Sens. Diane Allen, Christopher Bateman, Jennifer Beck, Barbara Buono, Nia Gill, Linda Greenstein, Kevin O’Toole, Nellie Pou, Ronald Rice, Nicholas Sacco, Nicholas Scutari and Bob Smith.