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Oliver proposal gives N.J. public workers right to negotiate health benefits

oliverSHEILA082310_optDemocratic legislators oppose Christie-Sweeney compromise

With virtually no support from the Assembly Democratic majority for a compromise plan by Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney to make New Jersey’s 500,000 public employees pay more for their health and pension benefits, Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) on Friday offered her own proposal.

Oliver is proposing that public employees to pay more for health benefits for the next three years and then allow them to negotiate costs in 2014. Her proposal would allow public employee unions to seek lower contribution rates during contract talks in 2014 rather than having them mandated by Christie and the Legislature.

Union leaders and rank and file Democratic legislators oppose mandating that public employees pay more for their health benefits and Oliver is hoping that the protection of collective bargaining rights will win them over. Oliver met with Christie and several legislators on Friday but declined to comment to reporters.

A so-called sunset provision in Oliver’s proposal would come in the same year that the national health care reform will be largely in effect. It also would come the year after Christie would presumably face reelection, insuring that collective bargaining rights for union members would be a 2013 gubernatorial campaign issue.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Christie have agreed on a plan to overhaul public employee health and pension benefits, and Sweeney plans to introduce the bill before it is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday.

But facing lack of support among fellow Senate Democrats, Sweeney is relying on Republicans to move the bill out of the Senate.

Robert Master, district political director for the Communications Workers of America, the state’s largest public employee union, told The Star-Ledger that while he is opposed to Oliver’s plan, he liked it better than the one put forward by Sweeney.

"The Sweeney-Christie plan is bad policy that does nothing to control runaway health care costs, destroys collective bargaining and is simply unaffordable for middle-class workers," Master told the Star-Ledger. "Sheila Oliver’s sunset provision makes the bad policy temporary, which is an improvement. But the substance of the legislation still represents a fundamental betrayal of Democratic values, and it must be rejected."

Oliver has pledged not to try to move the Christie-Sweeney compromise bill in the Assembly without significant Democratic support. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) plans to have the upper Budget Committee consider the compromise bill on Thursday.

The Christie-Sweeney compromise would require public employees to chip in more of their salaries in help bailout the financially-struggling state pension system and give up annual cost-of-living increases. New workers would have to work longer to be eligible for benefits. Employees would also pay a percentage of their health-care premiums in a tiered system based on their salary.

Sweeney maintains the compromise bill would save $120 billion and stabilize the pension funds within 30 years. State and local governments have promised $66.7 billion in health benefits to current and future retirees — the highest price tag among the 50 states — but has not set aside a single penny to pay for it. At the same time, the state pension fund has about 66 percent of the assets needed to meet its future pension obligations, ranking it among the worst-funded in the nation.

— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 
Comments (3)
3 Saturday, 11 June 2011 10:12
A public Employee
All of the proposed reforms do absolutely nothing to address one major gaping problem with the pension system in New Jersey. As things currently stand, an elected official gets a year of pension credit for each year that they're in office. Whether the final pension is based on a 3-year average or a 5-year average does not change this. An elected official who serves for 22 or 20 years can then use his or her connections to get a full time pension eligible job and "earn" a pension based on all of those years of service. (depending on year of enrollment, they would be paid 25/60 or 25/55 of their 3 or 5 highest years' average salary notwithstanding the fact that for the first 20 or 22 of those years, they worked part-time and were paid only a few thousand dollars) Elected officials don't want to touch this becuse it benefits them but the only fair resolution is to remove elected officials from the pension system altogether.
2 Saturday, 11 June 2011 00:53
Nick from North Jersey
This just in, 1 in 3 NJ lawmakers get 2 paychecks. Point: they aren't going to feel this and will pass it. Regarding above...no recent politician has funded the pension system. Not one. Now, all of a sudden, people care that it is unfunded? Sounds like typical partisan crap as the rest of us suffer while the two "different" parties bicker.
1 Friday, 10 June 2011 22:42
Bob Gross
Again, the Governor will cry..."but we have no money". Yet, he continues to give tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens of the state, costing one billion a year in tax revenue. Even more amazing, is that the Governor didn't pay ONE PENNY of the state's obligation into the pension fund, yet he wants to dictate every aspect of it. Last year he placed caps. Chris, where are the caps on health care insurers and pharmaceutical companies? Oh, but wait. Let's take care of our friends....after all, we promised. Those greedy middle class workers. Their windfall is over.
This Governor and legislature needs to pay serious attention to what is going to occur in Wisconsin between July and February, because it can happen here, too.

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