Newton – Speaking at a Town Hall meeting at Sussex County Community 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.
“The Path to Progress report has provided us with various reforms and recommendations that would make New Jersey’s economy healthy and competitive again while also providing a more efficient government,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The taxpayers deserve to have their government operating in an efficient and effective manner, which is achievable by implementing the recommendations developed by the Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup.”
The findings of the bipartisan panel were released in the Path to Progress report as a working blueprint to achieve the operational and structural reforms needed to restore financial stability and affordability.
Hosted by Jon Connolly, Ph.D., Sussex County Community College President, the forum was moderated by Marc Pfeiffer, Assistant Director, Rutgers-Bloustein Local Government Research Center, and included the participation of Senator Steven Oroho and former state Education Commissioner Lucille Davy. Oroho, Davy and Pheiffer were members of the fiscal workgroup.
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.
“A number of the bipartisan fiscal reforms we are discussing today would make New Jersey more affordable for years to come,” said Senator Oroho, (R-Morris/Sussex/Warren). “We shouldn’t let another budget cycle go by without taking action to control spending and improve government efficiency. We need to work together to make New Jersey a place where everyone, from young families to retirees, can afford to live.”
The panel’s recommendations include merging the high-cost School Employees Health Benefits Plan into the lower-cost State Health Benefits Plan 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.
Significant cost savings and educational and service improvements can also 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 said that the Path to Progress legislative package will not require retirees to pay more for their healthcare coverage.
“We welcome the open discussion on these issues that are so important to the state’s future, including the role of higher education,” said Dr. Connolly. “Sussex County Community College is proud to participate in a public forum of relevance and consequence.”