New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday approved a broad rollback of benefits for 750,000 government workers and retirees, the deepest cut in state and local costs in memory, in a major victory for Gov. Chris Christie and a once-unthinkable setback for the state’s powerful public employee unions.
The Assembly passed the bill 46 to 32, as Republicans and a few Democrats defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House. Leaders in the State Senate said their chamber, which had already passed a slightly different version of the bill, would approve the Assembly version on Monday. Mr. Christie, a Republican, was expected to sign the measure into law quickly.
It wasn’t simply “a few” Democrats. As Tom Blumer points out,
Given that the Assembly has 47 Democrats and 33 Republicans, it took more than “a few Democrats” to get the law passed in the Assembly by the 46-32 margin indicated. If all Republicans voted “yes,” 13 Democrats, or over a quarter of the total, also had to support the bill.
Indeed, both the Senate and the Assembly are controlled by Democrats, by 60% and 59%.
The legislation will sharply increase what state and local workers must contribute for their health insurance and pensions, suspend cost-of-living increases to retirees’ pension checks, raise retirement ages and curb the unions’ contract bargaining rights. It will save local and state governments $132 billion over the next 30 years, by the administration’s estimate, and give the troubled benefit systems a sounder financial footing, mostly by shifting costs onto workers.
Workers in the private sector have been doing that forever, and paying for the government workers’, too.
Senate president Steven Sweeney, Democrat, supported the bill.
The fight over benefits reflected both Mr. Christie’s ability to exploit the divisions among Democrats, through his alliances with more conservative Democratic party bosses and legislators, and his success at using the public-sector unions as a foil in his drive to shrink government spending. It has also allowed a nationally known but highly polarizing governor to claim the mantle of bipartisan conciliation, telling audiences that New Jersey is setting an example that other states and the federal government should follow.
The bill applies to all state government workers and
to a much larger number of county, town and school district workers, because most local governments participate in the state-run pension and health care systems.
Who knows, at this rate, maybe Americans will understand the nation’s dire fiscal situation.