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N.J. high court sets date for oral arguments on pension contribution cut

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The New Jersey Supreme Court set oral arguments for May 6 to hear a challenge by more than a dozen public employee unions against Gov. Chris Christie’s withholding $1.57 billion in contributions from the state’s $77.1 billion pension system for the fiscal year ending June 30.

The state Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the oral arguments following a March 31 petition by Gov. Christie, who was appealing a Feb. 23 decision by a state superior court judge in Trenton.

Gov. Christie had cut the promised state contribution to the New Jersey Pension Fund to $681 million from the promised $2.25 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30. But Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that Gov. Christie’s action violated the participants’ “constitutionally protected contractual rights to pension contributions.”

Gov. Christie announced his decision to withhold contributions on May 20, 2014 — the same day he said he would cut the promised state payment to the pension fund to $696 million from $1.58 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014.

The 2014 fiscal year decision, also challenged by unions, was upheld by Judge Jacobson “as reasonable and necessary” under the state constitution “due to the severe unanticipated revenue shortfall that arose at the end of fiscal year 2014.”

Robert Steyer writes for Pensions & Investments, a sister publication of Business Insurance.