The New Jersey State Assembly engaged in a marathon session on Thursday, June 24, withstanding controversy amid the criticism of the workers unions in the process. Working all day and into the night, the Democratic controlled lower house passed Governor Christie’s Pension and Health Benefits Reform bill that will end cost of living allowances (COLAs) and significantly increase the portion of workers salaries that will pay for the reform. In many cases, the worker contributions will double and, in some cases, triple.
The bill was ratified by the State Senate on Monday, June 20, 2011. When it is signed into law by Governor Christie, it will have mixed results for current workers and current retirees. One Bergen County retired educator indicated that he is subsisting on a $29,000 pension, amid ongoing treatment for a variety of medical issues. The retiree is legally blind, has suffered several strokes and at least one brain hemorrhage, requiring a variety of medications that compel him to provide a co-pay of $200 per month. By his calculation, losing his cost of living allowance will result in homelessness within two years. This gentleman suggested that he is paying for the reckless and irresponsible spending of past Governors and lawmakers.
Several members of the Assembly gave eloquent speeches during the televised session, indicating that the passage of the Pension and Health Benefits Reform bill was a step backwards. With the proposed elimination of Medicaid for poor patients, the elimination of police, firefighters, and teachers, and now the ravaging of pension and health benefits, the future of New Jersey’s working class looks bleak. In addition, the Governor’s plan to privatize schools will be more costly, rather than save money. Who will be left to actually benefit from the “mission” to save our economy?
One positive footnote to the marathon legislative session was the Assembly’s passage of a resolution to block the transfer of the New Jersey Network (NJN) to WNET. New Jersey may have the best state coverage in the country, thanks to NJN, and turning the network over to a New York based company was disconcerting to many legislators. Former Governor Thomas Kean alluded to the lack of transparency associated with giving NJN away, suggesting that the current Administration has been attempting to withhold as much information from the public as possible. WNET was selected by the Governor’s team with no apparent bidding process in sight. Montclair State University made a proposal to take over NJN with no cost to the State. The WNET transaction, however, would cost the State millions of additional dollars per year.