New Jersey Supreme Court agrees to hear Christie administration's appeal in state pension case

The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up a case contesting the Christie administration's payments into the state workers' pension system.

The court agreed to hear the administration's appeal of a lower court's decision that the state had broken the law when it scaled back promised payments into the system following a 2011 deal.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled in February that the state had to honor the 2011 promise like a contract and directed the administration to work with Democratic lawmakers to come up with the nearly $1.6 billion that remained outstanding.

The administration disagrees and argued in brief last week that Jacobson had "fabricated a constitutional entitlement to pension funding for State employees."

Gov. Chris Christie and the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services say it would be painful for residents if they had to come up with the money by end of June. The governor's budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year calls for $1.3 billion in payments, less than half the roughly $3 billion called for under the 2011 deal.

The potential Republican presidential contender has also been making the case for a new overhaul of the pension system, which would include scaling back employee health care plans, using those savings to pay down existing liabilities and moving new employees to 401(k)-style pension plans.

A spokesman for the governor's office declined to comment on the order.

Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, which is among the unions that brought the lawsuit, said the decision was "very welcome news."

"Every day of delay in deciding these funding decisions puts the pension system in a deeper hole," he said.

Oral arguments have been set for May 6.