Essex Dems divided over Oliver plan

Essex County Chairman Phil Thigpen convened a meeting last night at Pal’s Cabin in West Orange to try to pull the Essex County Democratic Party delegation together and help unite it behind Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), but the delegation remains divided over a proposed health benefits overhaul.

“The main thing is consideration of collective bargaining,” Thigpen told PolitickerNJ.com. “It’s an important and contentious issue. If there’s a way around that we would have a unified delegation. The association with union activity – it’s one that is very difficult to overcome, and so we’re working to bring everyone together. We have a substantial part of the delegation.”

But not a majority.

Sources said Assemblyman Al Coutinho, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, Assemblyman Kevin Ryan and Oliver support a health benefits compromise proposal championed by the speaker.

That leaves Assemblyman Tom Giblin, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, Assemblyman John McKeon, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey opposed.

“I had questions regarding plans but I haven’t seen the bill,” said Caputo. “What it means is we’re talking about concepts, not specifics. For me, I can’t oppose collective bargaining. If they change the plan without collective bargaining, it could cost people more and they don’t know what services they will receive. I can’t do that. I was a teacher in the union and all of us got to be where we are in part because of the unions.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) supports Oliver’s health benefits compromise, which which would require more contributions by workers now but sunset in 2014, according to published reports. For his part, Sweeney has the votes in the upper house to pass pension and health benefits reform but only if he reaches across the aisle and enlists the aid of Republican allies of Gov. Chris Christie.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) supports Oliver’s health benefits compromise, which which would require more contributions by workers now but sunset in 2014, according to published reports. For his part, Sweeney has the votes in the upper house to pass pension and health benefits reform but only if he reaches across the aisle and enlists the aid of Republican allies of Gov. Chris Christie.

With the Essex Democratic delegation divided, Oliver – like Sweeney in the Senate  – would have to depend on South Jersey Democrats and Republicans – in addition to her four Essex votes – to pass a health benefits reform bill. Although she has tried to work with the caucus, her allies fear that the speaker’s inability to muster a majority in her caucus could entice other Democrats to oppose her leadership re-up. 

Essex Dems divided over Oliver plan