With the news coming out of the Democratic caucus today that Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) wants to revisit reforms proposed by the 2006 bipartisan special session to overhaul the current public employee pension and benefits system, Gov. Chris Christie quickly issued a release praising Sweeney.
“Senate President Sweeney is sending a clear signal that results matter and that bipartisan action is critical to reforming a broken pension and benefits system,” the governor said. “I applaud the Senate leadership’s decision to complete the sweeping overhaul of the public employee pension and benefits system that was first proposed over three years ago. The only way to ease New Jersey’s fiscal pain and close our budget gap is by working together to fundamentally change the way government operates and today’s move is a very positive first step.”
According to the Senate Majority Office, the bipartisan, bicameral committee four years ago made 41 specific recommendations to ensure the pension and benefits system’s long-term viability for career state employees. The legislature enacted 15 recommendations, while other reforms were achieved through collective bargaining.
“The Senate must be prepared to tackle the unfinished business of the joint session,” said Sweeney. “Three years after the special session ended, applying its bipartisan recommendations is more important than ever.”
Sweeney and leadership want to examine rolling-back a “9% increase legislatively enacted in 2001 that resulted in a significant increase in the pension fund’s unfunded liability, increasing the number of ‘high salary’ years used to calculate pension benefits from the average of three years to the average of at least five years, requiring all part-time employees to enroll into a defined contribution plan instead of the pension system and allowing all current non-vested public employees to opt into a defined contribution retirement plan.”
Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville), whose legislative district includes Trenton and environs populated by a large number of public sector employees, said, “I don’t have any problem with providing people options. We have to secure our pension funds. But I’m looking to protect the pension fund for everybody, so that no one group will suffer more than another. Everybody realizes sacrifices need to be made. But they must be shared sacrifices not bourne primarly by the middle class and low income workers.”