New Jersey's powerful teachers' union vowed to retaliate against the state's top elected Democrat on Monday as a deadline to put a question on November's ballot that would make state payments into the pension system a constitutional requirement passed without action.

At a protest outside the Statehouse, New Jersey Education Association president Wendell Steinhauer faulted Senate President Stephen Sweeney - a Gloucester County Democrat expected to run for governor in 2017 - for not posting the amendment for a vote.

"If I can't work with you . . . I don't need you," Steinhauer said, to a crowd wearing red "Pension Activist" T-shirts that periodically broke into chants ("We need a leader, not a liar!").

"If that's who you are, then it's time to find someone else to work with," Steinhauer continued.

He said the union had "already started looking for that other person."

"We are going to get involved in the next election like you've never seen before," Steinhauer said.

Sweeney said Monday that the pension amendment could still be approved and put to voters - next year.

"Contrary to what some union leaders have been saying, the pension amendment does not die because it was not voted on by today," he said in a statement. "The Senate can still approve it with a simple majority vote any time before the legislative session expires in January, putting it on the November 2017 ballot."

Sweeney said last week that he wouldn't advance the amendment - which would require the state to make bigger payments into the pension system - without knowing for sure the cost of replenishing the transportation trust fund. That issue also is bogged down in wrangling, with the governor and lawmakers at odds on what tax cuts should offset a gas tax increase.

Without a resolution for the state's depleted transportation Fund, "it would have been too easy for opponents to argue that the state could not afford to pass the pension amendment," risking the measure's defeat in November, Sweeney said.

"I care too much about meeting our obligation to our teachers, state employees and retirees to allow that to happen," said Sweeney, who runs an ironworkers union.

He also pointed to the state's ramped-up payments into the chronically underfunded system: Earlier this year, the state paid $1.3 billion; the budget for the fiscal year ending in 2017 includes a payment of $1.9 billion.

Sweeney has been working to secure votes needed to override an anticipated veto from Gov. Christie on a transportation funding resolution. The governor, a Republican, has called for a sales tax cut in exchange for an increase in the state's gas tax, which is the second-lowest in the country.

The Assembly passed the Christie-backed plan, but the Senate objected, arguing that the sales tax cut would blow too big a hole in the budget.

Also speaking at the Statehouse protest was Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, who described the pension system as being in "a political and a moral crisis" and called for unity between unions.

Mark O'Neill, a math teacher at a vocational high school in Passaic County who is working as a part-time fellow with the teachers' union, said he thought it would be "tough to be in (Sweeney's) position."

But O'Neill said he didn't trust that Sweeney would post the amendment to get on next year's ballot.

"I can't take him at his word," he said.

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