The headline on the front page of The Hill yesterday was, for the most part, accurate: “NJ Supreme Court gives Christie a win on pensions.” And insofar as the Republican governor hoped the state court would rule his way, yesterday offered Chris Christie some welcome news.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Gov. Chris Christie (R) can move ahead with his proposed $1.57 billion cut to the state’s public employee pensions system to clean the state’s fiscal house.The decision came as much-needed good news for Christie, who is expected to announce whether he’ll run for president in the coming weeks.
The full, 114-page ruling is online here (pdf).
When it comes to political, economic, and legal developments, the Garden State governor hasn’t had it easy lately, and I don’t doubt that Christie and his political team were delighted by the 5-2 ruling from the state Supreme Court.
But with Christie, “good news” is relative. As the New York Times reported this morning, “While Mr. Christie has been selling himself as a straight shooter, the court, despite its ruling for him, didn’t make him seem like a man of his word. ‘The loss of public trust due to the broken promises’ in the law, the court wrote in its decision, ‘is staggering.’”
In other words, in Christie’s “win,” the same judges who agreed with his legal argument also concluded that the governor broke his word and violated the public trust.
For those hoping for a refresher in this story, this 2014 column from the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran on New Jersey’s pension reform efforts is worth another look.
[Christie] did only the easy part. He made public workers pay more for skimpier benefits, and froze cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees. That tough medicine was justified to deal with the emergency.But the other half of the deal was just as important. For his part, Christie promised to ramp up state payments into the pension funds gradually, over seven years, to make up for the scofflaw governors in both parties who shorted these funds over two decades.The point is that both sides had to absorb their share of pain. Public workers did their part. Now Christie is saying he will not do his, that he will short the funds by a whopping $2.4 billion through next year.
The GOP governor said he’d boost investments in the pension funds, but Christie was counting on increased job creation and improved economic growth to help provide additional resources. When New Jersey’s economy lagged, the money wasn’t there, and Christie didn’t follow through.
A record nine debt downgrades soon followed.
The New Jersey Supreme Court sided with Christie, effectively saying he could legally pursue his preferred course: investing far less in the pension funds than he said he would. Whether or not this should be considered a Christie “victory” is a matter of perspective.
For more details on the story, I found this Q&A from NJ.com helpful.