TRENTON – State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-3), of West Deptford, is moving forward on pension and benefits reform without his full caucus’ support and without the expressed support of the lower chamber.
“I was here five years ago calling on pension and health care reform, clearly not because it was popular,” he told reporters. “If we had acted five years ago, we would be well on our way to (a healthy system).”
A combined pension and benefit reform bill is being drafted and should be ready in a week, Sweeney said. It will be heard by the Senate Budget committee next Thursday.
“I intend to move forward,” he said. As far as the Assembly: “You’ll have to talk to (Speaker) Sheila (Oliver). I’m the leader of the Senate, and sometimes it’s not easy being the leader.”
The move forward comes one day after Sweeney said he would meet with Oliver to hammer out the final parts of the plan.
“It’s the fairest thing for the taxpayers, it’s the fairest thing for the workers,” he said. “We’re saving their pensions.”
Sweeney said he told his caucus yesterday that he was ready to move forward, although state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), of Teaneck, said the Democrats were not told that he was moving ahead.
“I’ve told my caucus,” Sweeney said, noting that he told Weinberg later in the day. “I never said I’d have 21 Democrat votes.”
Sources in the Assembly said they are ready to move forward on the pension, but not health care. “They want to take the easy road,” Sweeney said. “Of course they want to do the pension (reform)…They want their pension fixed, but they don’t want to deal with the health care component.”
He confirmed all of the details of the plan that were reported yesterday, and said he will release further information as it becomes available, like a matrix laying out contribution levels.
“This is not Wisconsin,” he said. “This is not an attack on workers.”
The plan includes a contractual requirement for the state to make its annual pension payments. “We gave (the unions) that, and they’ve wanted that forever. What they want is to pick and choose.”
“Both concepts have to get done,” he said. “It would be very easy to move a pension bill and leave the health care bill behind…The (health care) piece of it is for the taxpayers.”