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The state Supreme Court delivered a victory Thursday to Republican Gov. Chris Christie and ruled the state does not owe public pensioners cost-of-living payments suspended under a 2011 law.
 
The ruling effectively keeps the state from having its unfunded liability, which is about $80 billion under new accounting rules, increased by about $17.5 billion. It's the second significant victory for Christie over public unions on the pension issue. Moody's credit rating agency said the ruling eliminated a major fiscal threat to the state.

Christie called the ruling a win for taxpayers.

"State taxpayers have won another huge victory, one that spares them from the burden of unaffordable benefit increases for public employee unions," he said in a statement.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, writing for the majority in the 6-1 ruling, reversed an appellate court's ruling and said there isn't enough proof lawmakers intended to create a non-forfeitable right to cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.

"We conclude that the Legislature retained its inherent sovereign right to act in its best judgment of the public interest and to pass legislation suspending further COLAs," the justice wrote.

The decision sparked outrage from labor groups that were among the court case's plaintiffs and had sought to have the COLAs reinstated. The head of the state's largest teachers' union called the ruling "despicable" and said teachers counted on the increases as part of their compensation.

"This is theft, plain and simple," New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer said. "For 20 years, New Jersey's politicians have failed New Jersey's public servants. Now, for the second time in two years, the Supreme Court has done the same thing."

Pat Provnick, 71, of Hammonton, retired in 2000 after 33 years as a teacher and said the suspension of adjustments has led her to little changes, such as buying generic instead of name brand items at the grocery store. But it could mean having to move out of her home, which she said is more difficult to afford because of the suspension.


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