As reported by, Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s plan to require public workers to kick in more for medical benefits is getting little support from his fellow Democrats. As Sweeney scrambles for votes, Senate Republicans say they favor Governor Chris Christie’s proposal, which a new non-partisan report predicts would save about 16 times more money than Sweeney’s plan next year for state workers alone. Democrats, however, have even less enthusiasm for Christie’s plan.

In a March 16 letter, a senior analyst with the Office of Legislative Services said Sweeney’s bill would save the State about $22 million next year, while Christie’s plan would save about $347 million. Sweeney’s plan would save $206.2 million by the seventh year. The review only covered state workers.

Democrats who oppose the bill argue that how much public workers pay for health benefits should be decided at the bargaining table and not dictated by lawmakers. “This stuff needs to be negotiated,” said State Senator Ron Rice. State Senator John Girgenti said, “Clearly, something needs to be done to curb the rising costs of health benefits, and most public employees believe this as well. But it should happen through collective bargaining, not legislation.”

Some opponents cited a recent offer by the Communications Workers of America, the largest state employee union, to increase contributions after Christie said he will not negotiate medical benefits. The CWA said its plan would save $200 million by 2013.

If the CWA makes a deal with Christie, Sweeney said there “would be no need” for legislation: “I think they knew I’m serious about doing legislation. Now if they can accomplish it through collective bargaining, I think the governor should attempt it.”

Bill supporters say it’s a reasonable alternative to Christie’s plan, which calls for all public workers, regardless of income, to pay 30 percent of their medical premiums. Sweeney wants to phase in the increases over seven years and set a sliding scale of 12 to 30 percent of premiums, based on salary. Currently, public workers pay at least 1.5 percent of their pay for health benefits.