With N.J. Senate OK, changes to public workers’ benefits advance

    Legislation to require New Jersey public employees to contribute more for their pensions and health benefits is advancing through the state Legislature. The state Senate passed the measure by a vote of 24-to-15 Monday.

    Meanwhile, local government officials appeared to support the bill with testimony before the Assembly Budget Committee.

    Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins said it’s a comprehensive approach that towns need. “I assure you that if we do not have legislation like this passed, layoffs will continue to occur, people will have continued job loss, and the cities will actually continue to break down and we will have diminished services,” he said.

    Unions oppose the legislation. Sherryl Gordon with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees said health-care benefits should be negotiated through the collective bargaining process.

    “This bill does not save taxpayers money. It only shifts the costs from the larger body population of taxpayers to a smaller body of taxpaying public workers,” she said.

    Speaker Sheila Oliver is urging lawmakers in the Assembly to give final legislative approval to the measure. In a rare appearance before the Assembly budget committee Monday, she said it will help ensure a strong future for the state.

    “It takes into account a worker’s salary, and it will save the pension and benefit systems for hundreds of thousands of public workers,” she said.

    A vote in the full Assembly is set for Thursday.

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