TRENTON – State Senator Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex, a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Employee Benefits Reform and Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, issued the following statement after the panel approved its final report at a meeting in the Statehouse Annex today:
“I want to make it perfectly clear that the vote I cast today on the Committee’s recommendations was cast for the sole purpose of allowing the recommendations to go to the Governor and to the leadership of both Houses of the Legislature for their review. I have made no commitment to vote in the affirmative on any of these recommendations until such time as the members of the Legislative Black Caucus have an opportunity to come together and collectively discuss how each recommendation will impact the workers of New Jersey.
“I want to make it clear that there are many questions unanswered, and I reserve my final vote until I’m satisfied that the legislative proposals aren’t unfairly hurting minority and women workers, who make up 40 percent of the public workforce at the lowest salary range.
“Many times, legislative actions carry unintended consequences, and too often, the brunt of the negative impact of our work is felt by minorities and women, many of whom are struggling to get by on public salaries ranging between $18,000 and $30,000. We need to make sure these workers are protected, as are all public workers, before moving forward.
“We cannot expect workers making $18,000 to $30,000 to contribute more towards health care and pensions when they can barely afford rent and food.
“We also need to be aware that where we’re willing to go with future workers is just as important as what changes we’re willing to implement for current workers. We need fair compensation to continue to draw the best and the brightest to public service.
“And finally, we need to be careful that we are not simply replacing one public benefit system for another. We cannot simply take away public workers’ retirement benefits, only to have them join the welfare ranks to survive. Juggling our obligation from one program to another will not save any tax dollars in the long run.
“As we move forward, I’m committed to working with my fellow committee members to balance fair compensation and respect for the workers who do so much for New Jersey with the need to bring property tax relief to our taxpayers.”