Judges paying for their pensions: a question for interpretation

I will be voting on November 6 but not for any person since the electoral process for individuals has devolved into a quagmire of obfuscation that allows for no reasoned discourse.  However in New Jersey there are two ballot questions (laid out here in English, Spanish, and conveniently Chinese – I think).

Number 1 is straight-forward.  Politicians want to build more school buildings to repay all those lawyers and contractors who fund their campaigns.  No conflict for me here.

Number 2 is about judges in New Jersey being forced to pay more for their health and pension benefits which is supposed to win easy approval but I’m not so sure it should.

The ballot question reads:

Do you approve an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, as agreed to by the Legislature, to allow contributions set by law to be taken from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges for their employee benefits?

The official interpretive statement:

This amendment clarifies the Legislature’s authority to pass laws requiring contributions be taken from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court Judges for their employee benefits. These benefits include their pension and health care coverage.  The amendment responds to a question raised in a 2011 lawsuit filed by a judge after the Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law P.L.2011, c.78. That law increased the contributions taken from current and future justices’ and judges’ salaries for their benefits, starting in October 2011. The lawsuit, which was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, argued against taking the higher contributions from currently appointed justices and judges, citing language in the Constitution that their salaries cannot be reduced during their appointed terms. The amendment clarifies that such contributions, set by law, may be taken from justices’ and judges’ salaries during their terms. It would also allow for the higher contributions set by P.L.20l1, c.78 to be deducted from current and future justices’ and judges’ salaries.

My interpretive statement:

This amendment clarifies the Legislature’s authority to change the constitution when an obviously biased legal interpretation subverts their right to legislate according to the needs and whims of their campaign donors. The amendment clarifies that contributions, set by law, may be taken from justices’ and judges’ salaries during their terms and would allow us to keep raising those contributions in the future until we get these guys to work for minimum wage (or whatever we feel like giving them).

Politicians upon taking office swear:

I, ____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the State of New Jersey; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and to the Governments established in the United States and in this State, under the Authority of the people; and that I will faithfully, impartially and justly perform all the duties of the office of __________________________________________________ according to the best of my ability, and that I will not use my office to grant preferential treatment, nor to seek personal gain, favor, or advantage not available to the general public, (so help me, God*).

That last part is pretty funny* but the crux of the oath is about upholding the constitution, presumably even if you don’t agree with the process that interprets it a certain way.

This ballot measure will win easily though it will have minimal impact on when the pension funds go belly-up.  The trust likely lost far more in a couple of hours this week in the market then it will ever recoup from having 400 judges pay what might be, after the phase-in, an extra $20,000 each ($8 million annually) into their fund.  But the damage it could do to the constitution is incalculable.

.

.

* Not the ‘God’ part which seems to be discretionary but that ‘personal gain’ language which a lot of politicians seem to be mishearing (or not hearing at all).

33 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tough Love on October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Quoting …”This amendment clarifies the Legislature’s authority to change the constitution when an obviously biased legal interpretation subverts their right to legislate according to the needs and whims of their campaign donors. The amendment clarifies that contributions, set by law, may be taken from justices’ and judges’ salaries during their terms and would allow us to keep raising those contributions in the future until we get these guys to work for minimum wage (or whatever we feel like giving them).”

    Oh please ……

    It was simply to tell them that they’re not “special”.

    Reply

  2. Posted by skip3house on October 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    The last part of oath including ‘…….nor for personal gain……….’ covers this. Reasonable people should not require clarification.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Anonymous on October 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    As as politicians are lawyers there will be a conflict of interest.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Javagold on October 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    make the scumbag judges pay and then figure out how to make them pay 100% for health benefits

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on October 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      The real issue is to not unnecessarily overcompensate Public Sector workers.

      Unless Public Sector “cash pay” is demonstrably less than their Private Sector counterparts ….. and in all but a very few high level professional occupations, it’s NOT, per the US Gov’t BLS …. then there is no justification for ANY (yes ANY) greater pensions or better benefits at Taxpayer expense.

      And we all know that currently, the taxpayer paid for share of Public Sector pensions & benefits are multiples greater in value at retirement than that of their Private Sector counterparts.

      We must stop digging the financial hole we are in even deeper, and the first step in doing so is to end this (overcompensation) situation immediately, and for CURRENT, not just new workers.

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on October 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm

        And what should a judge be paid? Except for maybe Judge Judy, I don’t believe there are any private industry examples. The nearest would be lawyers with comparable experience. What is the pay for a senior lawyer in NJ, and shouldnt the judges get equal pay?

        Reply

        • Posted by Tough Love on October 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm

          Very difficult to say, but you cannot lump them all together. Some adjudicate serious/complex issues and some adjudicate nonsense, and act like collection agents for the State Treasury.

          E.g., Ever been in a traffic Court …. these judges should get about $25/hr.

          Reply

  5. Posted by Javagold on October 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    OT….But very Important to read…..prrof that this scumbag christie is a liar and a thief….$75 million for homeowners and NOT one penny went to a homeowner !!! and yet i have seen nothing in any local newspapers about this !!!!!!!!

    http://www.propublica.org/special/where-are-the-foreclosure-deal-millions-going

    Reply

    • Posted by skip3house on October 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm

      Christie’s ‘middle class reform agenda’ – what is it exactly? Does it include ridding us of the cruel, confiscatory and regressive school property tax, or reducing the progressive, based on ability to pay, NJ Income Tax? Does it include cutting NJ retiree medical and transfer them to Medicare as the rest of us? Does it end now all the overpayment of pensions by NJ to the very overpaid upper management who gamed our system?
      When the term ‘small business’ is used, is it a cover for the only 2% making beyond $250K/yr? What of the nice reduction of Social Security taxes,….for over $110K.
      Seems descriptive wording needs to be explained as only favoring the few…..?

      Reply

  6. Posted by Anonymous on October 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I dont know what you people are worried about. Chris Christie has already proclaimed that he is the savior for the State of NJ. And I havent heard him say that he has done anything wrong yet. Dont you have faith in Mr. Wonderful!?

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on October 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      For a while I thought he was going to follow-up and accomplish MATERIAL pension & benefit reductions, but now it seems he’s set his sight on National office (the Presidency in 2016 or 2020 ?) and NJ’s issues have fallen to the back-burner.

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on October 25, 2012 at 10:12 am

        Arent you just thrilled you voted for the guy. I guess you figure he was the least of two evils. America always gives you that choice.

        Reply

        • Posted by Tough Love on October 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

          Here’s an interesting thought, since it seems Christie has his eyes on the Presidency …….

          While he’s campaigning mightily for Romney, if Romney wins, Romney will obviously run again in 2016, keeping Christie from running until 2020, so perhaps while being the supportive Republican, he (Christie) is quietly hoping Obama will lose so he can run sooner in 2016 against a new Democrat.

          As to NJ, hopefully, after the Presidential election, Christie will again focus on NJ’s problems.

          Reply

          • Posted by Tough Love on October 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

            Ooophs ………. My above comment was supposed to say “Obama will win”, not lose in the 2-nd paragraph.

  7. Posted by Anonymous on October 25, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Doesn’t matter who wins what, NJ is doomed and real estate taxes will be the final nail in the coffin. As far as judges, let them pay for their own damn retirements and health benefits just like the rest of us.

    Reply

    • Posted by briandin on October 26, 2012 at 11:17 am

      No argument about NJ being doomed. Clearly, real estate taxes (plus underwater mortgages) will cause many to walk away from their homes like rats from a sinking ship. The only difference between a Corzine and a Christie is that Corzine was drilling holes into a boat already run through by cannon shot, while Christie is trying to plug them with corks supplied by the NJ state legislature (i.e., reluctantly and in limited supply).

      The situation is hopeless, and I for one would prefer it happen sooner than later so we can get on with the “post-Progressive” era.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Anonymous on October 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Yes! Get these damn judges who are 1%ers, paying for everything else like the rest of us. Screw the fact that some have mastered their craft, screw the deal that they agreed to. They are all appointed political hacks aren’t they? Bring them down to our level. Viva Socialism………..remove any incentive to enter this field. Mediocrity will be the new order of the day in our courtrooms. Hoorah!!! Screw em. I don’t want to lose my vacation home to pay for a fair and balanced court system. Bring on the boobs. I can bribe them I guess if their pay is too low. I don’t care about anybody on the public dole. I don’t need schools, police, fire protection. They should provide me services for next to nothing. Let them live in shacks with no running water for all I care. Screw their families too. Not my responsibility. Same with the military. I should not hafta make any sacrifice whatsoever. Can’t these people work for 50% less to save me some cash that I can use to buy a few extra toys!!!!

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on October 26, 2012 at 12:20 am

      No, Anonymous,

      100% of their current “cash pay” is fine.

      But their pensions do indeed have to be reduced by AT LEAST 50%.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Anonymous on October 25, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Screw the Constitution too. Let’s just change it every time we want to. A great idea just hit me!!! Let’s pass a Constituional Amendment legalizing the instutuion of slavery once again. We can use slaves to rebuild our roads, ports, railroads, they can teach our kids, protect our streets, and wait for it………………protect our country!!! Let them die fighting!! Not me!! Best part is we can pay off our trillion $ deficit so much faster!!! I care for no one but myself

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on October 26, 2012 at 12:25 am

      And might you be a Civil Servant ranting because we’re determined to reduce your excessive pension … promised by our politicians bribed with your Union’s money ?

      You’re not going to find much sympathy here.

      Reply

    • Posted by muni-man on October 26, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Forcing the august judges to cough up, just like capping school superintendents’ salaries which is now OK, are small but important steps for TP’s in gaining back control over the public cartels that have run amok over the last 20 years. ‘I care for no one but myself’ – that’s pretty much been the theme song of the publics since the late 80’s, not TP’s. Economics will flatten those public players who try to resist the inevitable in the years ahead. There are a lot more rollbacks and clawbacks coming, so get used to it chief.

      Reply

    • Posted by briandin on October 26, 2012 at 11:19 am

      We already have slavery, the productive class pays to keep the public sector ticks and indolent, fecund city-dwellers in the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. The solution, unfortunately, is to stock up on food and water, and quit the system til it ends.

      Reply

    • Posted by Anonymous on October 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      Hey Anonymous, I have a novel idea–let everyone pay for their own health insurance and retirement. For all of the public boobs who have no idea as to how to invest, let the state provide them with financial planners. When one has to pay their own way, they pay attention to cost very quickly. Let the judges pay and once that is voted in let the public employees pay more for pensions and health benefits. After all, where else would the publics go for a job?

      Reply

      • Posted by Anonymous on October 27, 2012 at 12:45 am

        Why even provide them with financial planners? Screw them. I’m sick of it already with these pensions and benifits. Private sector hasn’t had that stuff in years. I bust my rear end every day. And pay for my own health care. Unemployment is another one of my peeves, but you guys are dealing with pensions here i guess. I gotta stop these posts, I’m gonna givbe myself a heart attack. I got one of these aholes for a neighbor. These drinking firemen hafta go away too. What happened to pride?

        Reply

  10. Posted by Anonymous on October 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    you got me wrong guys!! Maybe I came across wrong. That is the way I feel. I am sick of paying ever higher taxes for crap I don’t use nor care for. Like this guy says stock up on food and water and screw em. Damn leeches! You guys may passively complain and not let it bother you, but I am sick of it!!! Every year it goes up!

    Reply

  11. Posted by Eric on October 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Anonymous stated: “Bring on the boobs.” meaning the dumb judges. I have news for you, they have been here for quite some time.
    Eric

    Reply

  12. Posted by Pat on October 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Very interesting editorial in the star ledger about judges compensation, worth reading. Even tough love might have a problem with this system.
    http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2012/10/proposed_amendment_on_nj_judge.html

    Reply

    • Especially interesting are the comments (all 113 and negative).

      If this was really written by someone who used to be a judge it illustrates that judges, thanks to their generous pensions, get to remain insulated in their protective bubbles away from real world problems that might affect them personally well into retirement.

      Reply

      • Posted by Tough Love on October 26, 2012 at 9:08 pm

        John,

        I glanced at the Link from Pat just above. One of the commentators stated that after only 10 years service they get a 75% of pay pensions. 75% of $165K=$123.75K.

        Is that true, and if so, is there a minimum age at which they can begin collect it w/o reduction?

        Reply

        • Here is the JRS handbook:
          http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/pensions/jrs1.shtml

          Because of the advanced ages of new participants in the JRS they can’t have the 5-year and out because judges would theoretically only hit their stride after 5 years. So the Normal Retirement ages are (a) 70 & 10; (b) 65-69 and 15; and then (c) 60-64 and 20. At all those ages it’s 75% of pay (by far the most generous benefit) and they only need to put in 3% of their salaries (by far the lowest contribution rate of any NJ participant) yet, though the handbook seems to still have that phase-in over 7 years to 12%.

          Reply

          • Posted by Tough Love on October 26, 2012 at 11:27 pm

            Just to put up some #s., the age=70, 10-years-of-service judge with 75% of pay pension w/$165K salary … a new retiree has a pension with a present value at retirement value of just about $2.2 Million (with a 3% COLA) and $1.8 Million with no COLA.

            Accumulating $1.8 Million during his 10 year working career would require just about a level annual Total Pension contribution of 45% of pay (55% to get to the $2.2 Million).

            Even if the Constitutional amendment is passed and they contribute (what is the proposal) 10% of pay, the balance that must come from Taxpayers is clearly unjustifiable .

            This is a somewhat extreme example of why I’m always arguing for pension reductions, not just contribution increases … as the WORKER’S contribution can never be sufficiently increased to realistically offset such high Plan costs.

          • Posted by Tough Love on October 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm

            Ooophs … I forgot to include the 75% factor in the calcs in my above comment, effectively showing results for a starting pension of $165K, not the correct 75% of $165K.

            Below is a corrected version of my above comment (noting that while the results are less extreme, they remain unjustifiable):
            ***************************************************************************************
            Just to put up some #s., the age=70, 10-years-of-service judge with 75% of pay pension w/$165K salary … a new retiree has a pension with a present value at retirement value of just about $1.65 Million (with a 3% COLA) and $1.35 Million with no COLA.

            Accumulating $1.35 Million during his 10 year working career would require just about a level annual Total Pension contribution of 36% of pay (44% to get to the $1.65 Million).

            Even if the Constitutional amendment is passed and they contribute (what is the proposal) 10% of pay, the balance that must come from Taxpayers is clearly unjustifiable, as Taxpayers typically get (from their employers) a 2%-4% 401K “match” + the employer’s 6.4% of pay contribution towards Social Security.

            This is a somewhat extreme example of why I’m always arguing for pension reductions, not just contribution increases … as the WORKER’S contribution can never be sufficiently increased to realistically offset such high Plan costs.

  13. Posted by Anonymous on October 27, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Enough with the numbers TL!! They should get nothing but what they put in. What don’t you understnd. I am calling for converting everything to 401K. Even for retirees. WHen is enough enough. Nobody pays for my pensions. oops oh yeah i have a 401k. Ridiculous already

    Reply

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