Thursday, March 03, 2011

Chris Christie, Democratic Leader Agree On Benefit Reform

This is epic:

The leader of the state Senate says pension and health care benefits for public safety workers cost an average of $47,000 a year, an ever-increasing amount that will bankrupt local governments unless workers start paying more.

Sweeney, a Democrat, has been called out this week by public safety union leaders who vehemently oppose his proposed health care changes, which are similar to what Republican Gov. Chris Christie has proposed.

"This is not rolling over or caving in," Sweeney said Wednesday. "It's standing up for taxpayers."
Sweeney and Christie insist they're attempting to keep the pension and health benefits systems solvent, not hurt workers.

"What do you do?" Sweeney asked. "Do you just let this spiral out of control?"

Public-sector workers now pay 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. They pay varying percentages of their salaries toward pensions: judges pay 3 percent, teachers put in 5.5 percent, state police 7.5 percent and police and firefighters 8.5 percent.

Sweeney's proposal would expand the number of available health insurance plans, and it calls for workers to contribute 12 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the premium, depending on their income.

The plan would be phased in over seven years for families and four years for single-coverage employees. Those making up to $30,000 a year would be expected to pay up to 12 percent of their premiums at full phase-in, while those making $100,000 or more would be required to contribute 30 percent.

Sweeney's plan shields retirees but would require future retirees to contribute a fixed amount each year, between $2,280 and $5,700, based on pension level.

What's so epic? The fact that the Democratic leader of the New Jersey Senate has seen reality, and has agreed to join with Chris Christie in remodeling the public employee reimbursement model?

Well, yes, partially. But here's the real interesting point: Senate President Stephen Sweeney is also a member of Ironworkers Local 399. A top official in that union, actually.

So why his agreement with the hated "union-buster" Chris Christie? A few thoughts:

-Sweeney is a guy who's actually had a job in the real world, where skill and hard work are required, as opposed to working your way to the top with powerful friends, strong oratory, and perhaps an advantageous skin tone. Unlike many politicians, he's had a real job. Unlike most, he's worked with his hands. So he's a "practicalist" (new word!), rather than a dogmatic, and realizes the peril we are in.

-Sweeney realizes that the best way to get more work for the private-sector unions is for the state to become more solvent, thus freeing up monies for the infrastructure improvement New Jersey desperately needs. And what is the biggest drain on New Jersey's financial resources? Public employees and their salaries, pensions, and benefits.

Chris Christie has managed to do something in New Jersey that Scott Walker and Republicans nationwide have not: drive a well-deserved wedge between the public sector unions and the private ones. Democrats are demagogue-ing (which is about all they do well lately), claiming the Republicans are "union busters", while the truth is there is only one type of union they are trying to bust: public.

It's a repeat of the illegal immigration wars (currently on hiatus, to return shortly!) where Democrats - led by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - claim Republicans are against "immigrants", when the truth is they only oppose illegal immigrants. The Democrats skip that tiny distinction, and the media help them along. The same thing is happening right now, with the Great Union Wars of 2011.

The Republicans must make clear who they are fighting against, and why bringing public sector unions in line with fiscal reality will ultimately create jobs within private sector unions. Once that is accomplished, and we bring this ally to our side, the battle is won.

Chris Christie is doing it in Jersey, and it looks like he's heading for a huge win. Republicans on a national level had better take notice...

1 comment:

Joaquin said...

Christie along with Kasich, and Walker are doing what governors and politicians have failed to do for decades.