Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
New Jersey Teachers Target Republican Christie, and Democrat Sweeney for Pension Plan
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
In a move that's becoming increasingly familiar across the country, Governor Chris Christie is asking public employees to contribute more of their income to their pensions and health care. New legislation could force towns and school districts to purchase private health plans, rather than participate in a government program which critics allege has lost over $200 million in recent years.
But unlike other states, the proposal in New Jersey is bipartisan, sort of: the plan represents a compromise between Republican Governor Christie and Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
And now state unions are targeting them both as the New Jersey legislative nears its budget deadline at the end of the month.
At this point, it's not clear that the compromise deal will become law. Assembly Democrats defected from the plan, and there's even some evidence that Republicans in the state Senate won't back the deal. That's a departure from the archetypal standoff that took place in Wisconsin earlier this year, where the battle lines between Left and Right were more sharply defined.
The New Jersey Education Association has come out in full force against the proposal, revving up an aggressive ad campaign (which includes an airplane) and are organizing a rally on the statehouse steps on Thursday.
Sweeney is a complicating factor here. The NJEA has traditionally aligned itself with Democratic politicians; in this instance, their target is a top Democrat in the state legislature. The following television spot accuses Sweeney of "doing the bidding of New Jersey's most powerful political boss, insurance broker George Norcross."
Specifically, Sweeney's legislation would prohibit a state-run health insurance benefit program from taking on new customers. In the New York Times article cited by NJEA, it's reported that many school districts have saved money by switching from private carriers to the public program. Barring new enrollees would keep public employees in private plans, which are usually more expensive than the alternative, and bring lots of fresh cash to George Norcross, owner of one of the largest health insurance brokers in the state.
Norcross is also one of Senator Sweeney's oldest friends and closest allies. The same New York Times article echoes one of NJEA's assertions, calling Norcross "perhaps the most influential Democratic boss in New Jersey."