As reported by, the leader of the state Senate says pension and health care benefits for public safety workers cost an average of $47,000 a year, an ever-increasing amount that will bankrupt local governments unless workers start paying more. Senate President Stephen Sweeney released the figures from the Municipal Managers Association, on the eve of a public safety rally that could draw up to 10,000 off duty police and firefighters to the Statehouse to protest staffing cuts and proposed benefit changes.

Sweeney, a Democrat, has been called out by public safety union leaders who vehemently oppose his proposed health care changes, which are similar to what Republican Governor Chris Christie has proposed. Sweeney and Christie insist they are attempting to keep the pension and health benefits systems solvent, not hurt workers.

The public unions say Christie is breaking a promise not to tinker with their retirement benefits and the most powerful Democrat in the Legislature is going along. The pension and health benefits systems are significantly underfunded. The pension funds for police and firefighters, teachers, judges and state, county, and municipal workers are underfunded by $54 billion. The health care system is underfunded by $67 billion.

Public sector workers now pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward healthcare. They pay varying percentages of their salaries toward pensions: judges pay 3 percent, teachers put in 5.5 percent, state police 7.5 percent and police and firefighters 8.5 percent.

Sweeney’s proposal would expand the number of available health insurance plans, and it calls for workers to contribute 12 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the premium, depending on their income. The plan would be phased in over seven years for families and four years for single-coverage employees. Those making up to $30,000 a year would be expected to pay up to 12 percent of their premiums at full phase-in, while those making $100,000 or more would be required to contribute 30 percent. Sweeney’s plan shields retirees, but would require future retirees to contribute a fixed amount each year, between $2,280 and $5,700, based on pension level.

Christie wants benefits changes that make the health insurance system more like the private sector or the federal government, with employees paying about one-third of the costs of whatever benefits plan they choose and the government picking up the other two-thirds. Automatic cost-of-living increases would be eliminated.

Sweeney and Christie also have offered pension reform proposals. Christie wants employees to work longer before retiring and wants to raise the pension contribution to 8.5 percent of salary for all workers. Sweeney’s bill would create labor management boards to set workers’ annual pension contributions based on the solvency of the system. His bill affects prospective and non-vested employees but does not try to change benefits for vested workers or retirees. Sweeney acknowledges that he does not have support from a number of Democrats in his caucus. A compromise could squeak through the Senate with support from all 16 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.