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Sweeney Encourages Voters To Approve Funding Restrictions

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney today said the national financial crisis makes it more important than ever that voters sanction a ban on raids to funds that provide unemployment and other benefits.

His proposed constitutional amendment, SCR-60, which requires voter approval, would ban State raids of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Temporary Disability Fund and the Paid Family Leave Fund.

“The UI Fund, has been a favorite target in the past for budget-balancing maneuvers, but we can’t play any more games with people’s jobless benefits,” Senator Sweeney said. “The UI Fund should be off-limits to raids, especially in this economic crisis.”

The bipartisan proposal, co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, was the subject of a required public hearing today in the Senate Labor Committee because it is a proposed constitutional amendment.

“We shouldn’t subject the UI Fund – or any fund devoted to a specific cause – to the whims of budgetary shortfalls,” said Senator Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland. “We know from our recent past how good intentions can get sidetracked by budgetary shortfalls. This will give some backbone to our intentions to make sure these benefits are there when people lose their jobs.”

In a report published today, it was noted that the UI Fund paid $169 million in claims last month, up 23 percent from last November.

Earlier this year, the UI Fund received an emergency infusion of $260 million to avert an automatic trigger in a business tax.

The Sweeney proposal would ask voters to amend the State Constitution to require that any state funds generated by assessments on wages of workers could only be used for the purposes for which they were created such as unemployment, disability or workers’ compensation.

‘This proposal will change the culture of our budgetary practices which, on a bipartisan basis, has raided billions of dollars from the UI Fund.” Senator Sweeney said.

The measure now awaits a floor vote in the Senate.