Lawmakers began moving ahead with nine of Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s “Path to Progress” bills, all of them aimed at promoting shared service agreements and cutting the costs of local government.
The move came amidst protests by unions including the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America – strong allies of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has remained frosty about many of the proposals that would cut public worker pensions and health care plans.
But Sweeney, D-3rd District, when he unveiled the legislation in mid-May, said those two proposals would be constitutional amendments, which would go before voters as a ballot question in the 2020 presidential election, effectively forcing Murphy’s hand.
One proposal calls for scaling back pension obligations for state workers with less than five years of experience, moving them into a hybrid pension and 401k-style plan.
For local government, the impact will be on property taxes, education costs, the expense of local services, pension payments and the spiraling costs of health benefits.
– Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Another calls for transitioning public worker health care plans from the equivalent of a platinum level of coverage under the Affordable Care Act, to a gold level of coverage – which would mean more costs those workers would have to shoulder.
The CWA and NJEA’s members, state employees and school employees respectively, stand to be among the most impacted by the proposals.
But the measures approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee on Thursday are all aimed at producing “savings and efficiencies for county and municipal government,” according to a statement issued June 13 from the Senate Democrats office.
Under shared services agreements, towns, cities and school districts would enter into local agreements to pool resources for local-level services such as police departments, parks and recreation, sanitation or the health department.
One of the proposals, Senate Bill 3769, lets county police departments provide policing services to towns. Areas which might utilize such a service would be generally smaller and have less resources to staff a department entirely on their own.
Another measure, Senate Bill 3760, would require local towns and school districts to at least hold annual meetings to hash out potentially shared service agreements. Senate Bill 3764 requires each county to appoint a shared service coordinator, who would be in charge of handling those kinds of agreements.
The measure sets aside $2 million to cover the additional costs of these new government positions.
Senate Bill 3762 would create a pilot program to assess property taxes at a county-wide level. Senate Bill 3761 creates the state-level County and Municipal Study Commission to also study potential shared services agreements.
“For local government, the impact will be on property taxes, education costs, the expense of local services, pension payments and the spiraling costs of health benefits. These reforms will have a positive impact for taxpayers and for local services,” Sweeney said in yesterday’s statement.
Thursday’s proposals drew out the support of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which said in a statement that the measures would “reduce taxes and make the state more competitive by reforming the state’s revenue structure.”
“New Jersey needs to make structural financial reforms because it’s increasing debt and unsustainable spending on public employee pensions and benefits is hamstringing its ability to make the necessary investments in higher education, infrastructure and economic development,” NJBIA Vice President Andrew Musick said.
“Instead of remedying budget imbalances by enacting new tax increases, the state should address the root of the problem by fixing the structural imbalances in the way the state raises and spends money,” he added.