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Senate President’s Failure to Act On Pension Amendment Enrages Public Unions

Friday, August 12, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 08/12/16

New Jersey’s teachers are promising to have a long memory after Senate President Stephen Sweeney didn’t clear the way yesterday to put a proposed constitutional amendment to boost the public-employee pension before voters this fall. The teachers made it clear during a rally held outside the State House that they are angry with Sweeney, who is expected to run for governor in 2017, for going back on a promise to put the pension-funding issue before voters this year. They chanted “We’ll remember in November” and “Bye, Bye Sweeney” during the rally, and Wendell Steinhauer, the leader of the New Jersey Education Association, said the union will now be looking to “find leaders who lead instead of lie.”

But Sweeney (D-Gloucester) later yesterday made the case that he’s holding back the pension-funding amendment until he can be sure it has the best chance of passing. That’s because, he said, the ongoing political gridlock over renewing the state Transportation Trust Fund now threatens to embolden opponents of the amendment like Christie, who has promised to work hard to make sure the ballot question fails. Though Sweeney didn’t allow the measure to advance yesterday, he said it will take only one more vote before the end of the year to put it on the ballot in 2017, and by then the TTF impasse is expected to be resolved.

The disagreement has fed concerns among members of both parties that the state would not be able to afford both the stepped-up payments required under the pension-funding amendment and the loss of revenue from the sales-tax cut sought by Christie, an estimated $1.6 billion according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. With the state budget extremely tight in recent years, there’s little margin for error in any potential compromise. “Without a resolution to the Transportation Trust Fund crisis — and a full accounting of how much future tax cuts will cost — it would have been too easy for opponents to argue that the state could not afford to pass the pension amendment,” Sweeney said yesterday. “The pension amendment would have been doomed to defeat, and that would have given carte blanche to current and future governors to slash pension payments.”

He also said the current state budget calls for the pension contribution to increase from $1.3 billion to $1.86 billion, meaning no harm will be done by waiting another year to put the ballot question before voters. Under the ballot question, the state would start making the full contributions calculated by actuaries by the 2022 fiscal year with payments that will likely surpass $5 billion. “Contrary to what some union leaders have been saying, the pension amendment does not die because it was not voted on by today,” Sweeney said. “The Senate can still approve it with a simple majority vote any time before the legislative session expires in January, putting it on the November 2017 ballot.”

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