This sort of conflict worked out fairly well for Scott Walker in Wisconsin. It’s off to a rocky start, but is showing some level of promise for Bruce Rauner in Illinois, but it’s proving very tricky for Chris Christie in New Jersey. The topic under discussion is how to deal with burgeoning public worker pension plans which were allowed to run wild in more prosperous time, but are now crippling the budgets of these states. After cutting back on some payments to the pension plans (and being sued by the unions) the Governor has told an appeals court that the lower court has “fabricated a constitutional right” for the unions.
A ruling that demanded the New Jersey state government contribute another $1.6 billion to public employees’ retirement funds came from a judge who “fabricated a constitutional right to pension funding,” Gov. Chris Christie’s administration told an appeals court on Tuesday.
Christie, a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is trying to get a higher court to overturn a February order that he and the Legislature contribute the money to pension funds for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The judge who made that order said that a 2011 law that Christie signed to try to make good on retirement promises to public workers could be enforced like a contract.
The state government, coordinating between the executive and legislative branches, has to manage the state’s coffers and come up with a budget each year. If there isn’t money to keep feeding this albatross around their necks, then the money just isn’t there. But the unions are doing a deft job of enlisting the courts to treat the pension plan as if it were a constitutional right. Assuming they succeed in this effort and Christie has to cough up the cash, it will have to come from elsewhere. The Democrats offered the obvious answer already, saying that they could make the pension plan payments if they just jack up taxes on “the wealthy” in New Jersey. (Which, in this case, equates to nearly everyone with a job making more than minimum wage.) And if that turns around the progress the state has made over the last half decade, so be it, I guess.
This fight is worth watching because it does parallel some of the other battles going on today. I mentioned the situation in Illinois already, and it’s relevant to this case. As you may recall, they’ve actually woven public worker union pensions into their state constitution to the point where once one has been awarded it can never be removed or diminished. (Even if you get the pension for working a single day.) Every state where the unions have run wild and done their level best to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs is either dealing with this problem now or shall be in the near future.
New Jersey will serve as yet another test case in this battle. If the courts keep coming down on the side of the unions there are some dark days ahead as state government fall into insolvency and begin to look like large-scale versions of Detroit. And if that’s the case, good luck to us all.