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Sweeney – ’Latest Unemployment Figures Troubling’

Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, speaks at the bill signing ceremony for his bill, S-786, sponsored with Senate Budget Committee Chair Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, which would create temporary paid family leave for workers in New Jersey.

Senate Majority Leader Pledges to Continue Working to Shore Up UI Fund, End Diversions

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem, issued the following statement today regarding the Governor’s announcement of the unemployment numbers’ for December and the need for action in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) fund to avoid a massive tax increase on employers in New Jersey:

“Today’s announcement of a 1 percent increase in the unemployment figures from November to December is certainly troubling news. As we continue to feel the effects in New Jersey of the national economic downturn, we have to be open to doing whatever we can to help put people to work and improve our economic standing.

“As more and more people find themselves without work, the solvency of the State’s UI fund is being challenged like never before. The influx of new applications for UI benefits, coupled with 15 years of bad decisions and fund diversions, have stretched our resources to the breaking point.

“Unless we take action to keep the UI fund solvent, we’ll trigger an automatic tax increase on employers who can least afford to pay it in the current economic climate. While we may get some help from the federal government, we need to be prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to protect vulnerable businesses from the brunt of employer tax increases.

“I worked with the Corzine Administration and Senator Barbara Buono last year to shore up the UI fund, because I recognize the devastation that an employer tax increase would have on New Jersey’s economic well-being. As we look at the options before us this time around, I will continue to work with my fellow lawmakers to avoid a tax increase which will only further exacerbate the unemployment issues facing the Garden State.

“In addition to keeping the UI fund solvent, we have to recognize that 15 years of mismanagement of the fund has put us in a position of making difficult decisions even more difficult.

“I sponsored SCR-60 along with Senate Minority Leader, Tom Kean, Jr., as a constitutional amendment to ban State officials from raiding benefits funds which are paid for by employees, and should only be accessible to employees, in terms of UI benefits, paid family leave, temporary disability and other wage assessments.

“These programs were created as safety nets for difficult economic times. Yet, time and time again, public officials have resorted to one-shot gimmicks to transfer surplus from these funds to plug holes in the State Budget.

“Governor Corzine, to his credit, has ruled out using these funds to fix budget holes. But in the future, all public officials should know that employee benefits are off the table when they’re looking for a quick fix to budget shortfalls.

“SCR-60 was unanimously approved by the Senate in December, and is pending before the Assembly Labor Committee. It is imperative that the Assembly approve this measure, so we can send this amendment to the people as a ballot question this November.

“While we need to take immediate action to avoid economic disaster, we should also learn from the mistakes of the past, and make sure they can never be made again. SCR-60, coupled with aggressive State and federal economic recovery efforts, is the needed medicine to get New Jersey on the right fiscal track for the future.”

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