Gov. Christie's administration on Tuesday sought to appeal a judge's ruling that the state had violated a law requiring New Jersey to contribute more money to the public employee pension system, arguing that the decision had "fabricated a constitutional right" to such funding.
The administration also filed an order seeking immediate review by the state Supreme Court.
At issue is Christie's decision in June to slash the pension payment for the current fiscal year from $2.25 billion to $681 million as part of the annual appropriations act.
Christie said at the time that the cut was necessary because of a revenue shortfall.
The court filings came in response to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson's ruling in February that Christie had substantially impaired public employees' contractual rights, which she said were codified in law and protected by the U.S. and state Constitutions.
She cited a 2011 law that required the state to phase in bigger payments to the underfunded pension system in return for worker concessions.
Jacobson ordered Christie, a Republican considering running for president in 2016, to work with the Democratic-controlled Legislature to find an additional $1.6 billion for the pension system this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
On Tuesday, the administration argued that the ruling had "effected a wholesale reordering of the state's constitutionally enshrined fiscal process."
The ruling "impermissibly trespasses" on the Legislature's sole authority to appropriate money, the governor's constitutionally protected power to line-item veto appropriations, and the state constitution's requirement that New Jersey's citizens ratify or reject debts passed by one legislature binding future legislatures, Assistant Attorney General Jean P. Reilly wrote.
With the ruling, the trial court also "impermissibly thrust itself into the annual budget process as a super referee and permanent player," violating the separation of powers among the three branches of government, Reilly wrote.
Christie's treasurer, Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, told lawmakers Monday that trying to find an additional $1.6 billion for the pension system with just three months remaining in the fiscal year would be "incredibly disruptive."
The Legislature's Democratic leadership had previously acknowledged as much.
But Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) has said that to make a "good-faith effort" to comply with the judge's order, the Legislature would propose increasing the income tax on New Jersey's highest earners.
Christie has repeatedly vetoed such measures.
For the fiscal year that begins July 1, Christie's proposed $33.8 billion budget includes a $1.3 billion payment to the pension system, which is about $1.8 billion short of what's required by the 2011 law, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.
Unions are suing to compel the full payment for next fiscal year, too.
Christie says a bigger payment would crowd out funding for other services, and he's holding town-hall-style meetings across the state pushing for an overhaul of the pension and health benefits systems for public employees.
He held his 133d such meeting in Kenilworth, Union County, on Tuesday.