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Should NJ Judges Pay More For The ‘Cadillac Plan?’ [AUDIO]

The legislature could soon have the authority to force judges to pay more for their pensions and health benefits if you give lawmakers that power in November.

Flickr User Dougtone

This Monday, the State Senate and the General Assembly will vote on a measure that would put on the ballot a question asking voters if they’d like to amend the constitution to give the legislature the right to require judges to pony up more for their benefits.

“We need to put it on the ballot and let the people in the State of New Jersey decide,” says State Senator Shirley Turner who co-sponsors the amendment resolution. “When they (judges) retire it takes about six months to recoup what they paid into their pensions at 3% a year.”

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that judges do not have contribute more for their pensions and health benefits despite a 2011 law that required them to do so. The High Court ruled that increasing judges’ pension contribution violates the State Constitution because it effectively reduces their salaries.

“It is patently unfair that they have a Cadillac plan, or more so a Rolls Royce plan and they pay so little into it,” says Turner. “There are no special classes in this state. We all are going to have to share in the sacrifice.”

Yesterday, the Senate Labor Committee held the public hearing that is required by law when a question is to be put on the ballot. No vote was necessary and only two people testified. Turner was one of them.

The concurrent resolution to be voted on Monday proposes a constitutional amendment that clarifies the Legislature’s authority to enact laws that deduct contributions from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges to help fund their employee benefits, which include their pension and health care coverage. The amendment specifically concerns only these justices and judges, as only their salaries are referenced and protected from various reductions, during their terms of appointment under current law.

The 2011 law requires all new judges to pay more for their benefits. The Supreme Court decision that judges do not have to contribute more only applies to those who were already judges when the pension and health benefits reform law was enacted.

On many occasions, Governor Chris Christie has pointed out that the average judge now pays just $59,300 into the pension fund but withdraws $2.3 million in benefits over their lifetime and they can collect pensions equaling 75 percent of their salary after 10 years on the bench.

Based on information provided by the Judicial Branch, the Office of Legislative Services estimates that, if the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by the voters at the general election held in 2012 and if the collection of the additional contribution begins January 1, 2013, judges combined would contribute $987,534 during the second half of State Fiscal Year 2013, $2.962 million during Fiscal Year 2014, and $3.950 million in Fiscal Year 2015.

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