TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem released the following statement today, regarding the passage (31-8) of the “Public Employee Pension and Benefits Reform Act of 2008.” The Act is aimed at reforming the State’s pension system:
“Today is a great day for New Jersey’s workers. The passage of these bills shows that protecting the benefits of the State’s workforce is an issue of importance on both sides of the aisle. I’d like to thank the leadership, Senator Barbara Buono, Senators Kean and O’Toole, and my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, for their help in crafting this legislation.
“Believe me, we had quite a fight. As a union guy myself, I never imagined that this legislation would receive the amount of opposition it did. The State union leaders, who protested this legislation, did what they felt that had to do. And I did what I felt had to be done to make sure their pension fund is healthy for the future. I don’t want to be misunderstood – this State’s dire fiscal straits didn’t stem fully from pension abuse, but this legislation will help to end future abuse. This problem didn’t happen overnight. It was a long time coming, and it’ll still take some time to overcome.
“Were these fights bigger than they needed to be? Sure. But change is rarely met without opposition. These changes are both important and necessary.
“Despite the fact that change isn’t always welcomed, later on down the line, it is often appreciated. As elected officials, we are responsible for looking at the entire picture. We have to do what’s best for the taxpayers, not just now, but for the future as well. I am proud of this legislation because throughout this entire process, step by step, it has accomplished what the people of New Jersey are looking for – a joint effort by both parties working together to do what’s best for the State as a whole.”
The Senators’ bill, S-1962, is a compilation of six bills that were initially introduced individually. The bill:
• Raises the minimum retirement age for new hires to receive full benefits from 60 to 62.
• Changes the eligibility criteria for new members of the TPAF and PERS from $500 and $1500, respectively, to $7,500. The $7,500 would be increased each year by the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
• Prohibits out of state pension credit purchases from counting toward New Jersey post retirement medical benefits.
• Allows the State to provide employees with an incentive to waive State health benefits if eligible for outside coverage.
• Lowers the number of paid holidays for State government employees from 13 to 12, by removing Lincoln’s Birthday from the list of state holidays. This provision would take effect after the collective bargaining agreements or contracts which currently cover many Executive Branch employees expire.
• Places in the law a requirement that local government employees work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for State health benefits.
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.