Gov. Chris Christie has handed down his ruling: fork it over, judges.
In a fight over whether judges are required to pay more toward pension and health benefits as required by a law passed this summer, Christie has blasted the state's judiciary as protecting its own wallet as other public employees ante up.
"Everyone who has the privilege of a public pension should pay their fair share for their public pension. That's all this is about. And the courts now try to muck this up to make it about judicial independence. I want the judiciary to be independent," Christie said during a Tuesday press conference. "I just don't want them to be a part of an elite, special class of citizens who get better benefits at a lower cost than everybody else in the state and do that at the expense of the taxpayers. It simply doesn't make sense."
State Superior Court Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg ruled last week that judges are exempt from the new law because it amounts to a pay cut, which the state Constitution forbids for the judiciary.
Christie has appealed the judge’s decision and called for a constitutional amendment to circumvent it. He also tied the issue to the Nov. 8 election, calling on candidates vying for the 120 legislative seats up for grabs to choose a side on whether judges should pay more.
As the debate continues in the courts and the state capital, PolitiFact New Jersey checked Christie’s claim that judges reap more from the pension system than they sow. We found Christie is right.
Among the five major pension funds covering public workers in New Jersey, recent retirees in the judicial pension system collected the largest average annual benefit and contributed the smallest percentage of their salaries, prior to the new pension reform law.
The amount public employees collect in pension benefits depends on a variety of factors, including their occupation, salary and years of service. We should also note that most public workers receive subsidized health benefits in retirement.
Public school employees, state police and the judiciary branch each have a pension fund. Police and firefighters have a retirement system and other public employees belong to the Public Employees’ Retirement System, or PERS.
New retirees -- those who have retired in the year preceding July 1, 2010 -- from the judicial pension system collected an average annual pension benefit of $107,540, the largest among the state pension funds in that category.
The same types of retirees in the state police pension fund collected $65,232. New, local retirees in PERS collected $17,599, the smallest amount among the funds in that category.
Before the pension law that passed this summer, judges contributed 3 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, the smallest percentage among public employees. Members of the state police pension fund contributed 7.5 percent and members of PERS contributed 5.5 percent.
Under the new law, the amount judges pay toward their pensions jumps, over a seven year period, from 3 percent to 12 percent of their salary, the largest percentage compared with the contribution rates of members of other pension funds.
Christie, during a news conference on judicial pensions, said judges "get better benefits at a lower cost than everybody else in the state."
The average annual pension benefit for new retirees in the judicial pension system is the largest. And judges contributed, prior to the pension and benefit reform law, 3 percent of their salary toward their pension, the smallest percentage among public employees.
We rate Christie’s statement True.
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