As reported by nj.com, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said today he plans to introduce legislation to increase health and pension benefits payments for public workers and that the Budget and Appropriation Committee will hold a hearing on it next week.
Sweeney and Governor Chris Christie have reached an agreement on the measure, but Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver has not signed onto it. Under the proposal, police and firefighters would pay an additional 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, and non-uniform public workers would immediately pay an additional 1 percent and eventually reach an additional 2 percent, for a total of 7.5 percent of their salaries.
Workers would also pay more for their health benefits on a sliding scale, with higher income workers paying up to 30 percent of their premiums and the lowest-income workers paying 3 percent.
In recent interviews, several Assembly members called for the measures to be split into separate bills, one dealing with pensions and the other with health benefits. “Of course they want to do the pension bill, you know, that’s what the unions want,” Sweeney said. “They want their pensions fixed, but they don’t want to have to deal with the health care component. You know who needs the health care component. The taxpayers.” Sweeney also said, “This is not about being unfair to the unions, it’s about being unfair to the taxpayers.”
Assemblyman Jack McKeon said he supports splitting the bills because lawmakers have traditionally dealt with pension issues in the past, while unions negotiated health benefits. “The concept of combining these is foreign,” he said. Asked about Sweeney’s comments, McKeon responded, “We don’t need two bullies.”
A short time later, Oliver issued a written statement that said she was “committed to getting it done.” She added, however, “My caucus had legitimate questions after seeing the details of this concept for the first time. Working through these concerns is reasonable and appropriate. Reforming the public worker pension and health insurance system at all levels of government to bring relief to taxpayers while respecting worker rights is my priority.”