Sweeney on pension and benefits reform: ‘How will history judge us?’

TRENTON – State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-3), of West Deptford, stepped down from his post at the front of the Senate chambers today to speak from the floor on his pension and benefit reform bill. It has the support of Gov. Chris Christie, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), of East Orange, and Republican Senators.

Sweeney said, “No one in the last ten years has advanced more pro-worker legislation than myself.”

“Responsible reform is needed now,” Sweeney implored. He said it’s a hard vote for colleagues who have been “pushed” around by union leaders.

“How will history judge us if we fail to take action today?” he said. “Problems like the pension and heath care system require fundamental changes…The status quo simply won’t do anymore.”

Sweeney said since making a politically-motivated decision on marriage equality, he’s decided to make decisions based on what he thinks is right.

“I was wrong (on marriage equality),” he said. “(The) time for political calculations is over.”

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26), of Pine Brook, supported the bill from across the aisle.

“The worst option is to continue doing nothing,” he said. “This bill is a fair, honest, balanced solution.”

“Today, the taxpayers are the victors,” said Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-21), of Westfield. The message: “Their government works for them, not the other way around.”

Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18), of Metuchen, said it was the government who skipped pension payments and in other instances made the benefits and pension more costly. “While I support pension reform,” she said, “I think it should be (handled) in a separate bill.”

She said cost-driver reductions for health care – like using generic prescriptions – haven’t been addressed by the bill. But overall, she said health care is part of compensation, and should be negotiated with salary at collective bargaining. Much like his claim in the contrary, Buono said Gov. Chris Christie couldn’t get what he wanted in bargaining and relied on legislation to achieve savings for the state.

“Instead of negotiating at the bargaining table,” she said. “The governor has (taken) to changing the rules.” Sweeney on pension and benefits reform: ‘How will history judge us?’