Gloucester Township – Speaking at a Town Hall meeting at Camden County College, Senate President Steve Sweeney today emphasized the need to confront the state’s mounting fiscal problems and warned that New Jersey won’t be able to make critical investments in education, transportation, higher education and social services unless it enacts reforms to address the looming budget crisis fueled by runaway pension and benefit costs.
“We have to be willing to confront the reality of the fiscal problems we face and realize the need for structural reforms,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “If we don’t fix the built-in problems, we will be staring at growing deficits in the years ahead. That will cripple our ability to fund our most important priorities, such as expanding Pre-K, fully funding our schools, making college more affordable and providing social services for the most vulnerable.”
Joined by Lou Cappelli, Jr., Freeholder Director of Camden County, Senator Sweeney laid out a series of solutions developed by the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup and incorporated into the “Path to Progress” report. Also participating were Jerry Maginnis, Rowan University, William G. Rohrer College of Business and Marc Pfeiffer, Rutgers University, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy.
The discussion included proposals to address soaring pension and benefit costs, make government and school districts more efficient, assess the efficiency of our tax structure and leverage state assets.
The panel’s recommendations include the merger of the high-cost School Employees Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP) into the lower-cost State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP) to take advantage of the cost savings negotiated by the Governor and the state’s largest public workers union. Combining the two healthcare plans will save money at the local level and reduce costs for school employees.
The merger would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for local governments, school systems and their employees, with more savings in future years as additional school districts and government entities rejoin the SHBP.
“All levels of government need to find ways to serve their communities in a cost-efficient manner. State, county and municipal governments have a responsibility to work together in support of the reforms we need to do our jobs effectively,” said Director Cappelli. “We shouldn’t let more time go by without putting this plan into action. We need to make New Jersey a place where middle class families can afford to support themselves.”
Significant cost savings and educational and service improvements can be achieved through initiatives such as K-12 regionalization, increased use of shared services at both the county and municipal level, and shifting the cost of Extraordinary Special Education from the local to the state level, according to the report.
Senator Sweeney repeated his pledge that the Path to Progress legislative package will not require retirees to pay more for their healthcare coverage.
“This is about cost savings for everyone, including retirees,” said Senator Sweeney. “While they pay less than current employees for their healthcare coverage, we recognize that those who are living on fixed incomes in retirement have to contend with high costs of living.”