GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS
NJ Spotlight: Sweeney Seeks Local Support for Public-Worker Benefit Reforms
Saying New Jersey has run “out of time” to address its major fiscal problems, Senate President Steve Sweeney urged local government leaders yesterday to fully support his proposal to cut government costs by changing public-worker retirement and health care benefits.
Speaking to a packed room at the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said the state’s strained finances are now hampering its ability to respond to serious challenges, including the declining reliability of New Jersey Transit and rising concerns about lead pollution in drinking water.
“The problem is, we’re out of time,” Sweeney said. “Unfortunately, we’re the ones that are here to deal with it.”
To free up the cash needed to address those and other big problems head-on, Sweeney is backing a series of cost-saving reforms, including making significant changes to public-worker benefits. They include moving all public workers into cheaper health care plans, and creating a new retirement system for some groups of workers that have fewer than five years of service with state and local-government employers.
But Sweeney’s proposals have faced major resistance from public-worker unions, and Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat who maintains close ties with union leaders, has not embraced them either. The governor has instead sought to slowly up ramp up state pension contributions while also finding ways to work cooperatively with public-worker unions to find incremental health care savings.
After stressing that more urgency is needed, Sweeney made it clear while speaking to reporters after yesterday’s event that putting his own benefit-reform proposals directly before the state’s voters in 2020 is still an option.
“We’ve got to fix it. It’s just reality,” Sweeney said.
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