As reported in the Trentonian on February 9, 2010, legislation requiring public workers to assume a portion of their health benefits costs and providing relief to the State pension system has been introduced. The package of bills introduced follows vows by Democratic leaders in the State Senate to revisit pension reform recommendations made four years ago.

One bill requires state, local, and school district workers to contribute at least 1.5 percent of their salary toward their health care costs. Another caps at $15,000 the amount of unused sick time that can be cashed in at retirement. A third bill repeals the 9 percent pension benefit increase put in place in 2001 by changing the way pensions are calculated. The last bill in the package requires the State to make its annual payment to the pension system, not skip it or short it, as has been the custom in recent years.

Most of the proposals would affect new hires, not those already in the pension system. However, the measure requiring public workers to contribute toward their health care costs would take effect when their current contract expires. No figures were immediately available on the potential savings. 

The pension system is underfunded by about $34 billion and is in danger of becoming insolvent unless fixes are made. The proposals were first made in 2006 after the Legislature met in special session to come up with ways to lower New Jersey’s property taxes, which average $7,045 a household and are the highest in the country. Pension and health care costs are major drivers of property taxes. 

Former Governor Jon Corzine halted some of the legislative-driven reforms, arguing that they should be part of the collective bargaining process. The State’s Unions, which have long resisted pension reforms, supported Corzine’s position. 

Other highlights of the bills include: (1) limiting enrollment in the pension system to those considered full time; (2) enrollment in a defined contribution plan for part-timers; (3) calculating pension benefits based on the 5 highest years of salary, instead of the 3 highest years, for future public workers, and basing benefits on the 3 highest years, instead of the highest year, for future State Police employees; and (4) allowing pension benefits based on one job, not multiple positions.  

Please check this blog periodically to ascertain updates with regard to this proposed legislation. Were the bills ultimately passed, there is no doubt they would have a drastic effect on New Jersey Public Safety Officers.