Proposals attack public employees, gloss over state’s obligations

A task force appointed by Senate President Steve Sweeney has issued a report outlining a series of proposals. Despite spending several months meeting, Sweeney’s Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group issued a report that consists largely of rehashed and rejected proposals that target middle-class public employees for deep cuts while glossing over the state’s responsibility to live up to its long-neglected obligations. The working group, which included no representatives of public employees, conducted its work behind closed doors.

NJEA’s officers, President Marie Blistan, Vice President Sean M. Spiller and Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty issued the following statement in response to the working group’s report:

“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that Sen. Sweeney’s hand-picked group came up with recommendations that reflect the approach he has taken throughout his decade as senate president. The report glosses over the state’s failure to meet its obligations and get its fiscal house in order, and instead proposes making public employees pay more for reduced benefits.

“That is exactly what Sweeney did in 2011 as the architect and lead cheerleader for a so-called pension and benefit reform law called Ch. 78.  As a result of that law, NJEA members have contributed more to both their pensions and health benefits every year for the last eight years. This year, an average New Jersey teacher with a family will contribute more than $5,200 to the pension system and more than $8,800 toward medical benefits.  That is $14,000 contributed before any out-of-pocket medical expenses are calculated. For that, those members already will receive a dramatically reduced pension. Despite all of that, NJEA members have paid every dollar demanded by that law. Asking school employees and retirees to pay even more, while further reducing the quality of their pension and health benefits, is unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable.

“That 2011 law was supposed to fix New Jersey’s pension system.  But while the state gladly took school employee’s hard earned money, it failed to do its part or pay its share. It is unacceptable that the very same senate president who orchestrated the last raid on our member’s paychecks is coming back for more, using the same scare tactics and making the same empty promises.

“What was issued today was just a report. We look forward to working with Gov. Murphy to identify a real, sustainable path to a secure pension and affordable health benefits. He has already shown his commitment to fiscal responsibility by budgeting the largest pension payment in New Jersey history and pledging to ramp up to full funding on an achievable schedule.

“NJEA members will continue to work with the Murphy administration to tackle the problem of skyrocketing healthcare costs, fueled by insurance and pharmaceutical companies, that hurt every New Jersey resident. We will continue to advocate for fiscally responsible pension funding practices that reduce the state’s long-term liabilities while meeting its obligation to its public servants. And we will continue to provide the world-class education that New Jersey families expect and New Jersey students deserve. But we refuse to be scapegoated for the state’s failure to meet its fiscal obligations, and we refuse to be driven further and further behind economically to pay for New Jersey’s legacy of fiscal irresponsibility.”

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