A Bill Drops: Coughlin Cross Currents and the NJEA Endorsements

Governor Phil Murphy is trying to get Speaker Craig Coughlin to accept a compromise on the dark money disclosure bill set for consideration by the Assembly. The compromise includes the elected official provision, but supposedly changes language to protect First Amendment issues that led to the conditional veto of the original version.

On the same week the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) issued its legislative endorsements, in fact just before that happened, Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) dropped a skeletal bill that met the benchmark of some of the labor organization’s longstanding pen-ben worries.

Significantly it (S-5815) would provide relief from Chapter 78. According to NJTV Correspondent Brenda Flanagan: “Public school teachers claim a 2011 law called Chapter 78 forces them to pay a share of insurance premiums that have increased so quickly that it’s outpacing their annual raises so they’re losing money. To fix it, they’re backing a bill that would link their premium share to a percentage of their salaries, not to health care policies negotiated by school districts. The bill also requires a cap.”

It had been Coughlin’s hope, or at least that was the closest human emotion observable in the political transmission of moving the bill, that some show of action would cause the NJEA to move on their endorsements of legislative incumbents.

It was the witching hour, after all, the end of August closing in, caucus members trying to prepare autumn mail, and the organization usually issued its endorsements in early August. NJEA leadership could also – and this big, a source said, use the appearance of a slight melting of the legislative iceberg tat the bill puts on display.

Chapter 78 relief is their homerun issue.

So Coughlin drafted the bill – with input from the NJEA – and then let it drop.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) wasn’t very happy about it.

It’s not so much that he didn’t like Coughlin working with the NJEA.

They’ve almost perfected their Cagney and Lacey, good cop-bad cop roles at this point.

Coughlin would work with the organization that made Sweeney spend more money to defend himself in the national history of legislative races, let them think there was a silver lining out there.

And then the prez would fill the door frame and say no way.

It worked.

Coughlin could then go back to the allies of NJEA President Marie Blistan and say, just like Gabriel Byrne in The Usual Suspects, “Tell her I tried.”

Sweeney and Blistan had been talking, meeting, trying, in fact, to sing something salvageable out of that 2017 debacle but it was hard.

Sweeney knew the organization was ultimately (and even incrementally, let’s face it) be with Governor Phil Murphy.

They have made that clear.

Coughlin, for his part, knew the organization doesn’t need more people in the legislature wired (probably as a consequence of taking Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee money) to buck the governor come crunch time.

But the people he has in there needed those endorsements.

So he moved the bill, knowing that made the NJEA temporarily happy, while knowing Sweeney wouldn’t budge in the other house.


Coughlin liked the bill, too. Saves money. $300 million, he said.

Chapter 78 relief.

That made the NJEA happy.

Sweeney hates it.

He’s got his Path to Progress plan.

This would step on it.

It’s just a non-starter.

Denied endorsements by the NJEA, the south (maybe it was a lockstep act but certainly most members) didn’t bother screening before the organization.

The bad blood went too deep.

One Democratic candidate screened in LD8 but the organization still went with the Republicans.

It’s not real, was Sweeney’s basic size-up.

A band aid bill.

He won’t post.

Not the version floating now.

But, based on his ongoing talks with Blistan, the senate president was hopeful of the organization’s recognition that something has to be done, a source said.

So they don’t agree on the bill, Sweeney and Coughlin.

But neither has the expectation that it will move forward.


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