Why I voted to reform NJ’s pension and benefit system

“Today marks an important turning point for the state of New Jersey.

In an unprecedented spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, the members of this body are making some of the hard decisions necessary to prevent our state from going bankrupt.

It is a start – but it’s the first step on the long road back from the financial brink. The changes we are making today are fair and they are necessary.

Simply put, we have no other choice if we are to protect the interests of our taxpayers.

Unlike the polarization and gridlock in Washington, there appears to be a broad consensus here in the Legislature and in the Executive Branch on several changes that must be made to keep our state solvent.

I am gratified to be part of that bipartisan coalition that reasons together and finds common ground on serious issues.

Today also marks my first voting session as a member of the senate.

Given my background as a member and leader in organized labor, the votes we are taking are extraordinarily personal for me.

Therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to make my position very clear.

When I asked the people of the 5th District to entrust me with their votes, I gave them my word that I would be their voice here in Trenton — that I would put them first, especially when it came to issues associated with taxes and spending

Among the most precious lessons my father instilled in me was that your word is your bond. And I intend to keep my word to my constituents and to the working families across this state.

Like my father, I have spent a lifetime on the front lines of the labor movement, working hand in hand with the people whose hard work, dedication and skill helped make this nation what it is today.

As he did before me, I have fought for the core principles of a days work for a days pay; quality health care, safe pensions and a safety net for all of our workers. We have made great progress over the years – and nothing we are doing through our votes today either impedes or reverses those advances.

But we live in a far different world than we did 10, 20, or 50 years ago, when the working men and women of this state had to fight for decent pay and the most modest of benefits.

It was a fight that made us all proud. Over time, however, the benefits packages for our employees have caught up with those afforded private-sector workers, and today our taxpayers are burdened by a system they can no longer sustain.

That system is out of balance with what our taxpayers can afford, and therefore threatens the very viability of our state.

In fact, the state of New Jersey would be bankrupt if it was a private corporation.

The measures we are taking today are important steps toward striking a measure of balance between those who work for this state’s public institutions and those who pay for it – the taxpayers.

It is more than reasonable for taxpayers to expect employees to contribute toward the costs of their health and pension benefits.
 
As much as anyone, our employees should fully understand what the working families of this state are going through.

They should also realize that without a healthy employer –in this case, the taxpayers – neither the employer nor the employees benefit.

Although I recognize that no one wishes to compromise on any of the concessions won in the past, we are not asking them to accept anything that is unfair or unreasonable.
 
And so while no one is happy we’ve reached the uncomfortable place we’re at today, we are fortunate there is still time to do something about it.

I am proud of my efforts on behalf of organized labor here in New Jersey, and I will always be an advocate for fair pay, safe working conditions.

But I will also support reasonable solutions to this state’s serious budget problems.

I was elected to represent all the taxpayers of my district – and I am determined to do just that.”

Why I voted to reform NJ’s pension and benefit system