Gov. Chris Christie said today he will deliver by the end of this week to legislative leaders language for a constitutional amendment to be placed on this November’s ballot to address the appellate ruling of Monday that excluded judges from the pension/benefits overhaul.
Calling Judge Linda Feinberg’s ruling “self interested and outrageous,’’ Christie said the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 12 ballot will include language “that even Judge Feinberg can understand, that salary means salary,” not benefits.
He called her decision morally and legally indefensible and said if the courts won’t fix the problem of a broken pension system then the voters need the chance to do so.
He called on all legislators right now to say where do they stand. He said if they won’t post the amendment during the lame-duck session then voters need to know why. “Three weeks to go before the election,’’ Christie said, adding there is no more important issue he has dealt with than pension-benefit reform.
He referred to her ruling as self-interested as he tallied the numbers.
Roughly 500,000 public workers have an average salary of $56,700 while judges have an annual salary of $166,000, he said.
And while the pension/benefit reform will have the average public worker kicking in 6.5 percent or more for pensions, Feinberg’s ruling would keep judicial pension contributions at 3 percent.
Saying the solvency of the judicial pension system is at stake, Christie said there will be an appeal to the appellate division and then to the state Supreme Court if needed, but he felt time is so critical on the issue that a constitutional amendment must be pursued.
The average judge gets $107,000 a year in retirement, Christie said. The average judicial pension contribution over their career is $59,300, so in the first six and a half months of retirement they “exhaust every dollar’’ they have put into the system, Christie said.
“This makes the conduct of the executive director of the PVSC looks public spirited,’’ he said in reference to the scandals of the Passaic Valley Sewer Commission.
The constitutional amendment, he stressed, will remove the judge’s ability to distort the meaning of the pension and benefits reform.
“They are as a group the best paid people in state government,’’ Christie said.
On Monday, Feinberg ruled in favor of a suit brought by Hudson County Judge Paul DePascale, who argued the state Constitution prevents the salary of a sitting judge from being reduced.
“They were over hear lobbying the Legislature like you wouldn’t believe,’’ Christie said. “This comes as no great shock to me that they either sued, or the first judge on the way out has decided she is going to side with the club.’’
“They are treating themselves differently than every other class of public employee,’’ Christie said.
Christie said that before the overhaul of pensions and benefits, other public employees funded between 27 percent and 57 percent of their retirement benefits. All other public employees were contributing from 5.5 percent to 8.5 percent of their salary prior to the reforms, and are now contributing between 6.5 percent and 10 percent, he said.
Judges’ statutorily-set salaries range from $165,000 for Superior Court Judges to higher increments for Assignment Judges and Appellate Division Judges and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the governor’s office stated. The ranges top off at $192,795 for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“Suffice it to say, in light of the constitutional protections afforded Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Superior Court, they must be provided with the same or comparable level of benefits, at the same cost, during their terms of appointment in the absence of an increase in salary,” the ruling by Superior Court states.