TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney delivered the following testimony today to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee regarding S-2937:
”When I wake up in the morning, I wake up as a labor leader. I make my living as a labor leader. My business cards have union bugs on them and my car is American made. My life is union.
“At the same time, in my capacity as Senate President, I am also responsible to the taxpayers of this state. I would never do anything to hurt a working person, nor would I wish to inject further damage among New Jersey’s already overtaxed middle and low income workers.
“That is why five years ago, I announced sweeping public employee benefits reform to fix a broken system. I was immediately protested, picketed, threatened, and shouted down by my own party.
“Reform was the right thing to do then, just as reform is the right thing to do now.
“The governor’s original proposals were too harsh. He asked that all public employees immediately pay 30% of health care costs and his pension reforms were unfair to the workers of this state. He was wrong.
“We could either oppose the governor outright or craft our own revolutionary and responsible reform.
“We need action. Reform is needed now. We have a pension system in crisis, one that is teetering on the brink of collapse. That is becoming clearer as we see record numbers of public employees retiring.
“What happens to those folks if we don’t act now to save their pension?
“We have a commitment and responsibility to public employees to ensure the health and welfare of their pension.
“We got into this position because some labor leaders simply failed to be honest with their members.
“As a labor leader, in my world, we don’t lie to our members. We would explain the problem to them and tell them what medicine was required to fix it.
“These reforms would save the pensions of over 800,000 public workers.
“The pension reforms I have proposed are for public workers. The health benefits I have proposed are for the taxpayers of New Jersey.
“Public employees need to pay a greater share of their health costs. We must be fair to them and their families. But we must also be fair to the taxpayers who are on the hook.
“Anyone in this day and age who thinks health care can come practically free is simply not living in reality. Certain union leaders have noted that health care costs will continue to rise. The fact is that under their status quo, taxpayers would shoulder the entire burden of that increase. Towns would shoulder that burden by having to cut services or raise taxes or lay off more workers.
“Taxpayers are tapped out…we cannot continue to go down that route.
“In crafting these reforms, I spoke with and listened to all interested parties.
“But the taxpayer needs our leadership most now.
“Moreover, this is not an attack on public workers.
“At the end of the day, we cannot continue to allow there to be winners and losers in this discussion. Everyone must be treated fairly. Responsible reform is needed now.
“Change is here and it is fair and affordable.”