As reported in NorthJersey.com, New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney has plans to wring savings out of government which could fall hard on public employee unions. Supposedly Sweeny wants to enlist Governor Philip Murphy as his “partner”, but Murphy wants no part of it.
Sweeney’s post-budget focus on cost cutting poses a dilemma for Murphy. Will he be able to effectively govern without inflicting pain on the very people who carried him to victory last November? And can he find a way to collaborate with Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who loom as powerful counterweights and impediments to his agenda, or can he go it alone?
The last governor to “partner” with Sweeney was Republican Chris Christie, and that led to sweeping rollbacks in public worker pension and health benefits in 2011. It is for these reason amongst others than many public employee labor unions have concerns regarding Sweeney and question whether he is a true friend of labor.
In short, Murphy said he has no interest in teaming up with Sweeney to cut benefits through legislation. Instead, he prefers to negotiate savings at the bargaining table. “The problem I have of re-cutting a deal on the pension side is that we have left the public-sector employees at the altar now for 20 years,” Murphy said in an interview with The Record and NorthJersey.com, referring to the reckless practice of shortchanging or skipping the state’s annual pension payments since the mid-1990s. Workers “have done what they said they would do. We haven’t as a state, and I think reclaiming the trust factor is a big deal, and that’s a big deal for me,” he said.
Sweeney, a self proclaimed fiscally conservative Democrat has been clashing with public-employee unions over cost-containment issues for more than a decade. Sweeney said in an interview. “We’re at a place where we can’t continue to raise taxes. We need to start fixing things.”
Some of the ideas being explored by the Sweeney Camp include raising the retirement age from 65 to 67; capping the pensionable salary for all government workers except state judges; and moving collective bargaining from the local to the state level to “foster leverage” with state unions.
Sweeney argues that Murphy is ideally suited to work with him, however Murphy has his own plans on ways to grow jobs and expand the economy. He is moving forward with a minimize-the-pain approach to unionized public workers. Last week, for example, state Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio announced several administrative steps that could save $100 million in health benefits without cutting packages for state workers — what Murphy has called the “holy grail combo”. However, there was a subtext to the announcement. It was Murphy saying: “We can rein in costs without harming our base supporters or signing on to Sweeney’s crusade.”
Here at Crivelli & Barbati we acknowledge and recognize the cost of benefits and pensions. However the collective bargaining process that is already in place and well established provides the necessary vehicle to address these issues without the involvement of the State Legislature. Allow Management and Labor to address these issues at the bargaining table through the collective negotiations process. One must remember that the pension mess that we are in is not the result of collective bargaining and/or the public employee labor unions themselves. Instead, the Legislature and former Governors of this state needs to perform a self examination of the their actions that permitted the numerous pension holidays to persist over the years that was the primary factor that created the short fall that we are now trying to correct.