Pension/Benefits Reform Politics

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Here’s the latest: Senator Steve Sweeney is determined to bring a full package before the Senate on Thursday, but Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver is still stalling. PolitickerNJ notes that the split among the Democrats in the Assembly is largely geographic: South Jersey legislators are ready to pass a full bill that increases public workers’ contributions to health benefits and pension premiums, but North Jersey legislators are only sold on the pension part. Gov. Christie says he won’t sign a bill that separates pension reforms from benefits, and Sen. Sweeney isn’t willing to bring such a bill to the floor of the Senate.

Assemblywoman Oliver is between a rock and a hard place. Her leadership is threatened by her inability to herd Assembly Democrats, but if she can’t get the bill through then she risks the wrath of voters.

Oliver’s predicament is emblematic of the shifting political winds regarding the power of unions. She’s relied heavily in the past on the ability of NJEA, for example, to swing voters. On the other hand, she owes her seat to George Norcross, who is now an ardent supporter of both the Opportunity Scholarship Act (the voucher bill) and the expansion of charter schools. (See today’s NJ Spotlight for more on Norcross.)

Best guess is that Speaker Oliver will bring the bill to the Assembly after a little more more gnashing of teeth. She’s no fool. The rift between North Jersey and South Jersey lawmakers on the need for higher employee contributions remains significant, but there’s far less division among voters throughout the State.

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