Rice can’t back pension reforms but approves of Christie’s general approach

TRENTON – Don’t expect to see renegade state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) back the public employee pension reform package when it arrives in the senate as-a-whole on Monday.

“Leadership has the votes, but I can’t support those bills,” said Rice, who plans to abstain.

Bounced out of his urban affairs committee chairmanship with the arrival of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Rice said he opposes both form and content in this case.

He doesn’t like the public employees bearing the brunt of government reform measures, and he didn’t like what he says was a ramrod caucus process without any real impact discussion.

“They say that’s going to happen tomorrow but what’s the good of that when the bills already came out of committee today?” wondered Rice.

Not opposed to reform, the senator nonetheless said he wants bigger observable chunks taken out of housing authorities, water and sewarage authorities and UEZ collection points before public workers absorb the blame – and the hurt – for an insolvent state pension system.

Since Christie took office, Rice says he sees positive signs that Christie wants to go full-fledged, across the board.

“I would like to think that where the governor is going is that he knows you just can’t mess with people’s pensions,” said the veteran state senator.

But Rice stills wants a cost benefits analysis that shows the exact breakdown – and a commitment to go after the fatter cat culprits – before he tinkers with public employees. 

“When I was on the city council in Newark, they used to tell me it’s cheaper to privatize sanitation,” he said. “They told me it’s costing us $2 million, and if privatize it will cost us $1 million.l That’s a $1 million savings, right? Wrong. Because when you lay off that public employee who pays taxes, water and sewer and he loses his home, that’s going to come back onto us in Newark, do you understand? Now, suddenly we’re looking at an empty house that turns into a haven for drugs and crime.”

Just before he called for a vote today in the Senate Government and Wagering Committee to move the reform bills, state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City), a coach by profession, told the packed chamber that his intention is not to scrap the public sector but to ultimately save the pension system by demanding that public employees contribute more.

Rice can’t back pension reforms but approves of Christie’s general approach