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N.J. Supreme Court Lets Christie Off Hook For $1.5B Pension Funding Bill Coming Due

By David Madden

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) -- New Jersey's highest court today gave the Christie administration plenty of breathing room in the battle over full funding of the state's pension system.

It's a 114-page opinion, with a lengthy dissent.  But, by a 5-2 vote, the New Jersey Supreme Court has deemed that governor Chris Christie and legislative Democrats exceeded their authority in cutting the deal in 2011: they could not bind the state into such massive debt on their own.

The court is declining to get involved in the battle going forward, saying Christie and the legislature "will have to deal with one another to forge a solution to the tenuous financial status of New Jersey's pension funding in a way that comports with the strictures of our constitution."

A lower court decision was vacated that would have required the state to come up with an additional $1.5 billion for the pension funds in just three weeks.

Today's ruling, as expected, doesn't sit well with the unions.  Wendell Steinhauer, who heads up the New Jersey Education Association, says his members are livid.

"We know that the courts can't be depended on, the governor can't be depended on, and the only ones left are the legislature," he said today.

Democratic leaders there insist the state's funding obligation remains in spite of the court's decision, but admit they'll have a hard time overriding what will certainly be a veto of any effort to raise taxes to pay for full pension funding.

The court ruling stressed the need for a political decision and Christie, campaigning in New Hampshire, issued a statement urging everyone to  "finally solve this problem once and for all."

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