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New Jersey Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments in public pension cost-of-living case

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TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey's Supreme Court has agreed to consider a case that looks at whether retired public workers have a right to cost-of-living increases in their pensions.

The court announced Thursday it would hear the case. A date has not been set for oral arguments.

A trial court initially denied workers' claims, writing that the suspension of cost of living increases, or COLAs, in 2011 as part of a pension system overhaul, was constitutional because the Legislature had the authority to amend the pension systems. But a year ago, an appeals court sided with the workers.

A key issue is a 1997 bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law that specified that vested members of the pension had a "non-forfeitable right to receive benefits," which it said meant that "the benefits program, for any employee for whom the right has attached, cannot be reduced."

The suspension of COLAs in 2011 for current and future retirees was part of a deal intended to stabilize the pension funds that also required workers to pay more toward their retirement.

Gov. Chris Christie has clashed repeatedly with public workers' unions and the Democrat-controlled Legislature over pensions. Unions sued Christie last year after he said he wouldn't make pension payments he had agreed to in the 2011 overhaul. In February, a judge ruled Christie and lawmakers must make good on a 2015 pension payment totaling about $2.25 billion — or nearly $1.6 billion more than what was included in the state spending plan for the current fiscal year.

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