Press of Atlantic City: As Sweeney talks pension reform, rating-agency report confirms threat to state

New Jersey’s finances are a mess. Despite years of massive taxation, officials can barely pay the interest on its $48 billion in debt. And the state faces a $152 billion shortfall in funding government worker pension and retiree health benefits, a hole that gets deeper each year.

Raising taxes year after year no longer works. With the tax burden already the highest in the nation on businesses and the fifth highest on residents, tax increases just put New Jersey’s economy further behind. That shrinks state revenues.

The state’s debt and government worker pension and health coverage obligations are already crowding out other spending such as on transportation and education.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, accepted responsibility this year for working toward fiscal responsibility, appointing a panel of 25 policy experts to develop potential solutions. In August, the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup suggested many reforms, including putting state workers in health plans rated “gold” under Obamacare — which actually would save a lot of money.

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