NJ Politics Digest: Sweeney Moves on Plan to Save on Public Worker Benefits

N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney. Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen

Senate President Steve Sweeney has introduced a package of bills that would reduce the costs of public worker pensions and health care among other initiatives aimed at cutting the high cost of government in the Garden State.

The move sets up a battle between the Democratic senate president and Gov. Phil Murphy, a staunch ally of public worker unions. But Sweeney has vowed to bypass Murphy and put pension and health care reform before voters in a referendum if his legislative effort fails.

The changes in Sweeney’s package of bills comes from the Path to Progress report prepared by a panel of fiscal and policy experts, Politico reports. The proposals include shifting public employees to less-expensive health care options as well as moving future employees into a hybrid retirement plan that combines pensions with 401K-style plans.

Sweeney has spent the last few months holding town hall meetings around the state to promote his plan to tax-weary residents. But the meetings have also been lightening rods for public employees, who adamantly oppose any efforts to reduce their benefits in the name of reducing one of the country’s highest property tax burdens.

Sweeney’s move also sets up what is sure to be a bitter battle with Murphy, who contends that any changes to public employee benefits should be done at the bargaining table, over the state budget.

Politico reports that while Sweeney doesn’t expect the legislature to consider all 27 bill in his plan by the June 30 budget deadline, he will push to have the measures dealing pension and benefit reforms acted on quickly.

The state must adopt a new budget by July 1 or face a government shutdown. Sweeney and Murphy are already battling over Murphy’s plan to impose a millionaires’ tax—a move Sweeney says will only drive high earners out of the state.

Murphy has tried to sweeten his proposal by tying it to the offer of a one-time infusion of $250 million for property tax relief. But the senate president has said the state must deal with spending in order to make the state more affordable and provide residents with property tax relief.

Quote of the Day: “I’ve said to people, you can shout and holler all you want. We’re going to fix New Jersey,” — Senate President Steve Sweeney, on public workers’ unions that oppose his plan to reduce state government spending.

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