NJ Politics Digest: Murphy Sides With Public Unions

Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat but a frequent Murphy foil, blasted the governor for siding with unions at the cost of college students.

Phil Murphy (left) and Steve Sweeney
Phil Murphy (left) and Steve Sweeney Christian Hetrick for Observer

Efforts to control the costs of state public union benefits ran into a roadblock when Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a plan to control health benefit costs that supporters say would have saved county college students millions of dollars in tuition payments.

The effort to control the cost of county college employees received bi-partisan support in the state legislature but was opposed by the powerful New Jersey Education Association, which is closely allied with Murphy, according to a report in NJSpotlight.

The plan was expected to save about $22 million annually, according to the report. But Murphy, who campaigned on a pledge to make college more affordable for the state’s struggling middle class, vetoed the measure. In his veto message, Murphy “echoed” the NJEA’s “claim that the bill would have trampled on the collective-bargaining rights of the colleges’ union-represented employees,” according to the NJSpotlight report.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat but a frequent Murphy foil, blasted the governor for siding with unions at the cost of college students.

“To stand with the NJEA against students is outrageous,” Sweeney said, according to the report. Murphy, who during his campaign promised to provide free community college tuition to all students, has so far forwarded a plan that would provide additional aid only to low-income students.

NJSpotlight also reports that Murphy vetoed an effort to move forward with efforts to rebid the state’s $6.7 billion contract for public workers’ pharmacy benefits. The measure, which passed both Democratic-controlled branches of the state legislature, includes specific steps and a timeline to help reduce the cost for taxpayers by about $1.6 billion over time, according to the report.

But Murphy vetoed the measure, claiming that while he shares the legislature’s goal of reducing the cost of public union pharmacy programs, he feared the plan would have the opposite effect.

Murphy’s vetoes don’t bode well for Sweeney’s plans to rein in the costs associated with the state’s public workers unions. Sweeney has said the state is in dire financial circumstances and any solution to the problem must include addressing the costs of union benefits and pensions.

Murphy, however, owes much to public unions and appears loathe to take steps to control the costs, even though the state’s crushing tax burden is among the top problems cited by residents.

Murphy campaigned on a pledge to help the state’s middle class, but Sweeney has frequently pointed out that Murphy needs to realize the middle class is far broader than just those people in state unions.

Quote of the Day: “Those of us who have been in Trenton for a long time do understand that when the chief of staff tells you you need to look for employment outside of state government, the message is clear.” — Pete Cammarano, chief of staff to Gov. Phil Murphy, on dealing with Albert J. Alvarez, who is accused of raping a volunteer on the Murphy campaign.

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