NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney says it’s time to ‘fix New Jersey’
SOMERVILLE – For state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3rd District), New Jersey needs to change its ways before it’s too late.
“We’re in a fiscal crisis,” Sweeney told the Somerset County Employer Legislative Committee at a luncheon meeting Friday at Verve Bistro. “We’re in trouble. It’s scary.”
If nothing is done to hold down the cost of public employees’ pensions and health benefits and public education, there will be “not many people left” in New Jersey, he said.
Sweeney said he has been visiting county and municipal officials throughout the state to warn about the state’s perilous fiscal condition and what needs to be done immediately to “fix New Jersey.”
“It’s time to have a serious dialogue about how to solve this,” he said.
“It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he continued. “It’s a New Jersey issue.”
In August, the 25-member Economic and Fiscal Policy Workgroup issued a comprehensive report with 200 recommendations on how to save taxpayer money. That number has been whittled down to 32, Sweeney said.
The recommendations center on reforming the state’s pension and health insurance systems. If there are not reforms, the state will have to raise taxes and Sweeney said that he refuses to raise taxes because New Jersey already is the fifth highest taxed state and any more taxes would “scare” aware businesses.
“We’re in trouble,” he said.
The state has taken measures to save pension costs, but more should be done, he said.
Sweeney said a “hybrid” retirement system is needed, with pensions for employees earning less than $40,000 a year and 401K accounts for those earning more than $40,000. That could save $3 billion, Sweeney said.
Health care costs could be lowered by switching from “platinum” plans to “gold,” plans, he said.
Perhaps the change with the biggest impact is the proposal to eliminate school districts that do not have high schools, he said. That step would reduce the number of school districts in the state from about 600 to 320, he said.
In this plan, no school buildings would be closed, Sweeney added.
“We would keep a principal, but not a superintendent,” he said.
The plan would have the added benefit of having a common curriculum among a high school’s sending districts so that teachers don’t have “to teach to the bottom.”
Sweeney said the New Jersey School Boards Association “did not disagree” with the proposal.
He said county and local officials should lobby their legislators to take action.
“If you don’t like my plan, that’s fine, but what is yours?” he said.
Staff Writer Mike Deak: 908-243-6607; firstname.lastname@example.org
Original article posted on mycentraljersey.com