N.J. benefits overhaul puts lawmaker in tough spot

    The New Jersey Senate Budget Committee plans a hearing next week on a measure to require New Jersey public employees to pay more for their health and pension benefits.

    There’s some resistance in the Assembly to making the change.

    Some Assembly Democrats agree with unions that health benefits should be negotiated at the bargaining table rather than being imposed through legislation.

    Monmouth University political scientist Patrick Murray says Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver is doing a balancing act between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the wing that’s backing Governor Chris Christie’s reforms.

    “It’s a tough position that she’s in. So she’s not going to go ahead until she’s sure that there’s not going to be a lot of political fallout for her,” said Murray. “She has to worry as much about retaining her leadership position as actually getting this passed.”

    The governor’s budget plan relies on more than $300 million in savings from health insurance reforms.

    Political analysts aren’t sure whether the benefit changes will be approved by the legislature before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

    Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor Peter Woolley said Friday he’s not optimistic.

    “There’s too much at stake electorally for all the players involved. If this is something they could possibly punt to somebody else they would do it, but there’s no one to punt to,” said Woolley. “So there’s a real risk that nothing will get done.”

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