Here’s a quick synopsis of some of the changes required by the pension and health care bill approved by the state Senate as it affects current, retired and new public employees.
Hope still remains that the full Assembly will block Monday’s changes when it convenes this Thursday.
The “act concerning public employee pension and health care benefits, and amending and supplementing various parts of the statutory law and repealing P.L. 1999, c.96 and P.L. 1985, c.414,” affects all current public employees and all retirees.
It shifts more pension and health insurance costs to New Jersey’s more than 500,000 public workers, doubling — and, in some cases, tripling — what most teachers, firefighters and police officers must pay toward their health benefits, while moving the retirement age for many workers from 60 to 65, wiping out cost-of-living increases and putting out-of-state hospital care beyond the affordability.
Most critically, the “reform” package ends collective bargaining — one of the rights workers fought hard for and won decades ago.
However, it also includes more than one provision that several attorneys have said could be challenged in the courts as prohibited by New Jersey “non-forfeitable” pension statute – not to mention state and federal contract law. No one, not even the government, can change a contract.
FOR CURRENT ACTIVE EMPLOYEES
• Contributions increase from 5.5% to 6.5% immediately following the effective date of the legislation. An additional contribution increase of 1% will be phased in over a seven-year period until the rate reaches 7.5% — except police and firefighters, who will pay 10
•No COLA (cost-of-living adjustments) for currently active employees after retirement. One loophole: If the funded basis of the system improves, COLA might return.
Health Benefit Changes
•All employees must pay a portion of their premium, based on salary and using a sliding scale that starts at 3% of the premium for those making less than $25,000 a year and reaches 35% for those making $110,000 or more (the percentage changes for every $5,000 over $25,000.
•Your contribution amount will be phased in over four years: a quarter must be paid the first, then a half, followed by three quarters and then full. Minimum requirement: 1.5%, no matter how low your salary is. Collective bargaining is eliminated for those four years.
•You must have at least 20 years of credit from the date that the governor signs the bill into law — if the Assembly doesn’t block it — to receive benefits without cost when you retire. Otherwise, you will be required to pay your own way. Your contribution will be based on a sliding scale using your pension as the baseline.
•Under one of the most controversial provisions, one that could be changed in the end, you could go with greater co-insurance and higher deductibles. The state could even restrict policies to in-state providers. You would still be able to go out-of-state providers, but you’d have to pay more. Not sure whether this part is going to make it to Christie’s desk intact.
FOR CURRENT RETIREES:
•No more COLA. You’d be looked in to the current figure. NOTE: COLA could return (see above).
•You could go with greater co-insurance and higher deductibles. The state could even restrict policies to in-state providers. You would still be able to go out-of-state providers, but you’d have to pay more (As mentioned above: Not sure whether this part is going to make it to Christie’s desk intact). Of course, you can’t be restricted to in-state providers if you live outside NJ.
FOR NEW EMPLOYEES:
•You get a different set of pension benefits. You’ll have to work 30 years if you want to retire before 65. If you meet that criteria, your pension benefits package will be reduced by 3% for every year under age 65.
State and local governments must pay their annual contributions to the pension system or face Superior Court action as an “impairment of contract.”
Protestors held a “Second Battle of Trenton” march across the Delaware River on Monday in opposition to the cuts, as Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) was delivering the package Gov. Christie wanted.
Insisting he is pro-union, Sweeney said the changes are necessary to address the state’s $53.9 billion pension deficit. How the once-flush pension got that way wasn’t part of his speech. (For a clear explanation, SEE : Veteran cop takes on Christie, draws raves )
What’s more, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said it was offensive to public workers to dove-tail the pension and health measures into one bill. Handling each issue separately would have been fairer and easier to negotiate, she said.
Fellow Democrats who supported the Republican-boosted maneuver included Union City Mayor Brian Stack.
Meanwhile, most of the Democratic lawmakers who spoke on the Senate floor insisted the rights that workers fought hard for and won decades ago is being trampled underfoot.
Undermining the collective bargaining process “erodes our identity as a nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, citing back room deals instead of straight-up talks.
Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) called collective bargaining “a basic human right….If Governor Dannel Malloy could use persuasion to save $1.6 billion dollars in Connecticut, we can do the same here in New Jersey.”
Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris), the bill’s co-sponsor, issued a statement insisting that most increases to workers’ health benefits have been legislated, and not negotiated, before.
“Today, the taxpayers are victors,” declared Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union).
ALSO SEE (CLICK ON HEADLINE TO READ):
A four-hour hearing by the Senate Budget Committee, which included the arrests of more than two dozen labor union members, ended with the panel sending the full Senate a measure that essentially ends collective bargaining for New Jersey public servants. The vote was 9 to 4 in favor of the bill, which was approved by five Republicans and four Democrats, led by Union City Mayor Brian Stack (D-Hudson).
AN OFFICER’S VIEW: Rutherford Police Officer Nick Loizzi Jr. wants state lawmakers to remind Gov. Christie of his pre-election pledge that pensions for police are a “public trust” that he wouldn’t violate. So the officer has written to all of his local representatives in Trenton.
Christie campaign letter promised ‘no harm’ to police, firefighter pensions
As a state delegate for PBA Local 300, Loizzi opposed Gov. Whitman’s use of what once was a flush police pension system to help balance the state budget.
“History has shown I couldn’t have been more correct,” he says.
An open letter from N.J. PBA president: ‘Time is running out!’
TONY WIENERS : Both media reports and our numerous meetings in Trenton with legislative leadership and the Front Office indicate that talks are growing more aggressive to finalize some form of pension and/or health benefit change bill before the end of June.
EDITORIAL : Another group of public officials in New Jersey is taking aim at police officers — this time for “slacking” since eight of their colleagues were let go. Their evidence? Fewer summonses over the course of a single month.
ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : A state appeals court has upheld an arbitrator’s decision not to consider private-sector compensation for his award to Fort Lee PBA Local 235 because a police officer holds “a uniquely public sector position that does not lend itself to private sector comparisons.”
Police urge public to tell NJ lawmakers: We’ll remember in November
EXCLUSIVE : Police in a North Jersey town have launched a bold letter-writing campaign urging state lawmakers to think twice before backing Gov. Christie’s plans to cut police salary and pensions while hiking their health insurance costs — or face rejection at the polls this fall. (You can print a copy here to send to your local legislator.)
‘Me first’? Here’s how much you really pay for police, fire in NJ
AN OFFICER WRITES: As you already know, Governor Christie actually called the public safety community a “me first” group. As a police officer for 23 years, I resent the fact that an elected official — our “leader” — demonizes the very people who are here to protect him and our fellow citizens.
AN OFFICER WRITES : With all the buzz about Governor Christie’s “tool kit,” it’s important to understand that one of its goals is to end the Civil Service system in New Jersey. The result? A total politization of jobs that will make current patronage look minor in comparison. Instead, I propose a plan to reshape the system into a true money-saver that will award jobs based on merit, as it’s supposed to.
Gov. Christie called it a “me first” rally, and he was right — only he missed the point, organizers said. “When the fire bell rings or someone says shots are being fired, each one of the people in the crowd will say ‘me first’ through the door or ‘me first’ to the rescue,” Bill Lavin, president of the New Jersey Firefighter’s Mutual Benevolent Association, told the crowd.
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : The latest bombshells in the battle between Gov. Christie and New Jersey public servants — just days from a huge rally in Trenton — come in the form of advisory letters that say state lawmakers can’t change a public employee’s pension once he or she has put in five years on the job.
New Jersey police, firefighters to rally in Trenton March 3
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : Police and firefighters from throughout New Jersey plan to descend on Trenton on March 3 in a “Stand Up for Safety” rally aimed at countering Gov. Christie’s plan to roll back public employee benefits. “We have had enough and want to send a message,” State PBA member Jim Ryan told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
Christie campaign letter promised ‘no harm’ to police, firefighter pensions
“The claim that any harm would come to your pension when I’m elected Governor is absolutely untrue. It is a 100% lie,” Chris Christie wrote to New Jersey law enforcement officers during his campaign against Jon Corzine. The 2009 letter, and a near-carbon copy sent to firefighters, has resurfaced amid Christie’s bid to overhaul public servants’ pension system.
Christie: union buster
EDITORIAL : “First they got rid of unionists. I said nothing, because I was not a unionist. When they came for me, there was no one to protest.” Every one of us who has focused on Gov. Christie’s attempts to demonize public servants has missed a much bigger picture: This isn’t unique to New Jersey, as the Woodstock in Wisconsin has shown. A carefully constructed strategy to split the middle and working classes is going on throughout the entire country right now. And many of us are the pawns.
Christie doesn’t own the debate on public servants’ perks and salaries
EDITORIAL : I’ve tried not to connect the horrors visited on sworn law enforcement officers and their loved ones nationwide this year with Gov. Chris Christie’s assault on New Jersey’s public servants, out of respect for those injured and killed, but his calling on police unions Monday — of ALL days — to make concessions for the sake of public safety is plain insensitive.
AN OFFICER WRITES : In light of a recent newspaper article about police salaries in New Jersey being among the highest in the nation: First off, let’s remind ourselves that New Jersey’s cost of living is one of, if not the highest, in the country, and that most jobs in New Jer sey, including private sector jobs, pay more than other states.
Veteran cop takes on Christie, draws raves
Police statewide are hailing a veteran cop in a North Jersey town who is fed up with “the current climate of public employee bashing” and challenges Gov. Christie to “do the right thing” with taxpayer-funded pensions.
By Jerry DeMarco
EDITORIAL : Many are making much of a newspaper report that New Jersey police salaries are the highest in the land. To paraphrase a man who puts his life on the line every day to protect his community: Does a bullet feel any different if it’s fired in, say, Lyndhurst, than it does in Paterson? Know how many cops have been killed in the line of duty in Lyndhurst? Four. In Paterson? The same.
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