Two measures aimed at providing relief to constituents – public sector cuts proposed in the Gov. Jon Corzine’s 2009 budget, and the Paid Family Leave Act – landed in Sen. Shirley Turner’s (D-Mercer) district this week with all of the ceremony of friendly fire.
The president pro tempore can’t support the governor’s budget because it posits 3,000 job cuts that Turner said would devastate her district, which includes Trenton and the environs where a lot of public employees live.
"I’m going to fight to protect as many of my constituents as possible, to make sure they don’t go after the rank and file," the senator told PolitickerNJ.com. "I’m discussing those proposed cuts with the governor, and I know he believes the most humane and sensible way is to offer early retirement packages. These are workers at the top of the salary grade, and at an age where they can retire."
But younger workers and those workers with children in college and mortgages to pay must be protected. "If you lay off an individual, it’s a ripple effect in the district that would destroy the economy here in Mercer County," said Turner, who complained that the Legislature in January gave a segmented 18 % pay increase to judges, while holding rank and file workers to 3 %.
"I voted against that pay raise, because it sends the wrong message when some people are suffering and others are not sharing the suffering," said Turner. "No. We will not balance the state budget on the backs of state employees. This is not like the private sector, which can lay off an individual and never see that person again. You lay off a person in this jobs climate, government ends up having to pick up the cost. I would rather see someone working."
The second measure – paid family leave – likewise would have a negative effect on her district, according to the senator. She said she won’t vote for it on Monday because the program would remove money from the paychecks of poor people who are struggling to pay their bills every month.
"The unions tell me this will benefit people in my district, but many of my constituents are under water right now, said Turner. "They can’t afford their enormous utility bills, their rent. If they can’t make it now with 100% of what they make, how can they make it with two thirds of what they make?"
The measure would extend state liability insurance to employees, enabling them to care for a newborn, a sick relative or themselves. Funding would come from the workers contributing on average a dollar a week from their salaries, which would enable them to collect a reduced paycheck while on leave. The senator said many of her constituents are working more than one job, and simply can’t afford to take time off. Paying into a program they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of, makes no sense, in her view.
Turner is among several Democrats in the Senate who like the concept of paid family leave but say the timing is all wrong with the country in a recession.
"We cannot impose any additional taxes on our citizens right now," said Turner. "People are losing their homes and losing their jobs. Creating new programs when we can’t even afford the programs we have is the wrong message to send."