The following editorial by Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) addressing the importance of bipartisanship and public employee benefit reforms in the fight to solve New Jersey’s financial crisis was published by The Asbury Park Press on August 22, 2018:
New Jersey is at a crossroads. The warnings and predictions some of us have made for years are coming to fruition.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon addresses the importance of bipartisanship and public employee benefit reforms in the fight to solve New Jersey’s financial crisis. His editorial on this topic was published by The Asbury Park Press on August 22, 2018. (SenateNJ.com)
We are nearing the brink of fiscal insolvency and if we do not act immediately to address this crisis, every family, every business owner, every public worker and every taxpayer in New Jersey will suffer the consequences. Taxes will skyrocket, services will be slashed and our pension system will be in shambles. Everyone has a stake in this fight for fiscal survival.
Spending cuts are not popular. We need to face the reality that if we are going to continue to provide stable services to our residents, and solvent pensions to our dedicated public workers, we do not have any other choice but to make sensible cuts now.
Families make critical spending decisions at their kitchen tables every day because they realize they can’t spend money they don’t have. Government isn’t immune from the same laws of mathematics, except that the consequences of government action don’t fall squarely on the shoulders of those making the decisions. The consequences of irresponsible government wind up right at the kitchen tables of our taxpayers.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of legislators and experts, the Economic & Fiscal Policy Workgroup, announced a series of recommendations to get New Jersey back on sound financial footing. A number of these are big, bold, courageous policy recommendations but make no mistake — most of them are essential and unavoidable.
One of the most critically-important recommendations in the work group’s report is to convert extravagant public employee health benefits from platinum-level coverage to gold-level plans.
This change alone would generate nearly $1 billion in savings for taxpayers. It would actually put more money back in the pockets of government workers by reducing their premiums, while ensuring they still have access to extremely high-quality, affordable health care.
Although at this point I am happy just to see bipartisan support for this proposal, the fact is that Republicans have been pushing for responsible pension and health benefit reforms for years.
As an assemblyman, I was a vocal advocate for enacting the 2011 pension and health benefit reforms. Had we not passed that legislation, the state pension system would likely have already gone under. I am glad to see that there is finally a bipartisan consensus that our work was not finished then, and further action is necessary now.
These efforts aren’t just about taxes. Without these reforms, our pension system will fall apart. Public workers need to realize that those of us advocating for reform, and telling them the truth, are the good guys.
The “platinum-to-gold reform” included in the work group’s report was also a large component of the widely acclaimed Healey-Byrne Commission report, which was released years ago. I have long-sponsored legislation to put these recommendations into law.
That being said, it does not matter whose name is on the bill. We just have to get it done. There is nowhere else to look for this level of savings in our budget.
Forcing overtaxed New Jerseyans to pick up the tab again and again is not the answer. Their pockets are empty. We cannot keep asking regular people to pay more and stand by and watch as the government wastes their money.
We also have to acknowledge that if we don’t enact the commonsense changes in the work group’s report, we will have to cut other state programs and services.
Our property tax relief and college affordability efforts will undergo a steep decline. Support for seniors, the disabled and our most impoverished residents will dwindle, all because certain unions are demanding massive tax increases so they can continue to receive Rolls-Royce level benefits that even the Obama administration essentially said were outrageous.
Those of us who are willing to stand up and do the right thing for all, instead of what is politically-expedient or beneficial for some, will face criticism. That’s tough. The difficulty of the policy choice doesn’t alter our moral obligation to make it.
We can’t shy away from making the changes necessary to protect the long-term viability of our pension system, and ensure that our children and grandchildren can afford to grow up here, and that their parents and grandparents can afford to retire here.
The work group’s report is a start. We need to look beyond what was recommended in the report, and enact additional fiscally responsible reforms to save taxpayers money. Restoring the interest arbitration cap on police and fire salaries is another mathematically essential reform. The Legislature allowed the cap to expire. That was an egregious mistake. There is no doubt that this cap has saved us hundreds of millions and we have to reinstate it before local costs spiral out of control and shatter the property tax cap itself.
Proposing change is easy. Voting on change and standing by your proposals, and the facts, especially in the face of extreme public scrutiny takes guts and heart. I hope that legislative leadership will follow through and that we start to see some of these ideas posted for a vote as soon as possible.