As reported by nj.com, a contentious bill raising pension and health benefits costs for more than half-million New Jersey government workers goes back to the state Senate one more time on Monday for a formality vote.
A provision in the main bill allowing health plans that restrict out-of-state care will be removed. The provision was seen as a plum to South Jersey political boss George Norcross III, who oversees Cooper University Hospital in Camden, minutes away from Philadelphia. It caused an uproar among public-sector union leaders, who vehemently oppose the entire piece of benefits legislation, and threatened to upend Republican support.
The main bill requires teachers, police, and other public workers to pay part of their health care premiums based on income. Their pension contributions will also rise. Proponents say higher worker contributions are necessary to shore up the underfunded retirement systems, which are shy of their eventual liabilities by $110 billion. Opponents say the pension system is underfunded mostly because the state has repeatedly skipped its annual payments. They say health insurance changes should be negotiated at the bargaining table, not legislated.
Governor Chris Christie is expected to quickly sign the legislation. The governor has already taken victory laps over the weekend, suggesting on national television that Washington could learn from New Jersey’s example when it comes to bipartisan cooperation and curbing spending by passing additional benefits costs onto public workers.
The bill was fast-tracked through the Legislature after Christie struck a deal with Democrats and Republicans who lead the Senate and Assembly. However, it got through without the support of a majority of Democrats in either house. Debate among Assembly Democrats was especially divisive. That house approved the employee benefits bill and the supplemental measure late Thursday, after several hours behind closed doors. In the midst of that debate, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver announced that the restriction on out-of-state care would be abandoned.