With all interested parties trying to take a turn at the wheel, or at least lap up some praise in the process, Governor Phil Murphy ditched Chapter 78, affirmed nine years ago in the Christie era, like a Merry Pranksters volkswagen bus coming in for a landing in the junkyard of history. Earlier this week, the full Assembly voted 73-0-0 Monday to approve legislation (A-20) designed to provide Chapter 78 relief for public education employees in New Jersey.
Bill sponsors, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) and Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin (D-18),
Verlina Reynolds-Jackon (D-15) and Mila Jasey (D-27) issued the following joint statement:
“Public education employees are essential to New Jersey and we value their contributions. This legislation will restore fairness to Chapter 78 health benefit contributions and provide needed relief to New Jersey taxpayers.
“After months of work with Senate President Sweeney, the NJEA and the Governor’s Office—we are pleased to move this bill forward.
“By providing new, more affordable health plan options and including a guaranteed floor of savings, this bill is a win-win.”
The Senate also voted Monday, passing the measure 36-0.
The agreement provides NJEA members with relief from Ch. 78 while also lowering costs for local education employers and the state. Ch. 78, a pension and health insurance law passed in 2011, imposed unsustainable and ever-growing health care costs on educators, according to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). “NJEA members have been working on a sustained campaign to win Ch. 78 relief for nearly two years, pushing the issue to the forefront of the agenda in Trenton. As part of that campaign, NJEA members also advocated for two job justice bills that provide expanded due process and contract protection rights to New Jersey’s educational support professionals (ESP).”
There was some history here, weird, but indicative like perhaps nothing else, of how alliances shift, even in the worst of circumstances; how deep hatreds produce pragamatic love, and how politicians’ sense of evolution invariably asserts enduring Darwinist principles.
Lawmakers, and New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Marie Blistan this afternoon joined the governor for the bill signing in Union.
“We couldn’t have done this without the group up here,” said Murphy. “I am proud this administration will have delivered. The real inportance of this bill… is that today New Jersey returned to one of the central tenants of our state, and that is collective bargaining. Negotiation, as painful as it may be, will always get you more.”
It’s taken nine years, the governor added, sharp-elbowing his predecessor Chris Christie, who originally got behind Chapter 78, with Sweeney, in part prompting the NJEA to help crack the back of Sweeney’s 2017 run for governor, and then put up on wobbly legs in his home district as he sought reelection that same year.
What was visible of Murphy’s crinkled crow’s feet face bespoke of the smile under his mask as a political tempest characterized by difficult personalities and enduring rivals, Sweeney chief among them, suddenly assumed the shape of his gubernatorial will.
“Great leader” Blistan took the baton from Murphy at the microphone. “There are a lot of great leaders up here but there was one cue he gave me – he said ‘she,'” Blistan cracked.
She was first to credit frienemy Sweeney, followed by Coughlin, Senator Joe Cryan (D-20), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), Eloy Delgado of the Linden School Board, and Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller (vice president of the NJEA), sworn in as local executive by the governor earlier today.
“Today is the culmination of two years of work,” said Blistan. “We worked very hard to tell our stories. A law that ultimately hurt our members. Not only did we win relief for our members… it was done unanimously in the legislature.”
The NJEA prez repeatedly praised Sweeney, who survived the most expensive legislative race in the
nation’s history in 2017, primarily fueled by the NJEA, in a show of the senate prez and public sector union almost miraculously coming together to drive the reform.
“We refused to give up until we found a win, win, win solution,” said Blistan, who reserved her highest praise for NJEA members.
The senate president let it all hang out, opting for street talk over eloquence, and frankness over wafted frankincense.
“When people say we can’t get things done, that’s bullshit,” said Sweeney. “This is big. I don’t remember anything this big. And to have everyone vote for it – pinch me. Marie is smart. She’s tough. At the end of the day, the teachers want we wanted. We just weren’t talking to each other.
“That might have been my fault for a while,” cracked the senate prez, acknowledging the bad blood aftermath of the 2017 general election, which spilled into his legislative agenda, twin-pronged in its anti-Murphy, anti-NJEA wrath. “Yeah, I think it was.”
At the time he and Bistan announced the deal back in March to overhaul Chapter 78, political insiders mumbled about the appearance of the senate prez working around the governor with subdued old foe Blistan at his side, Sweeney’s disregard for the governor going so far as to use a once indomitable political enemy – on persona non grata par with Murphy – to alienate him.
But today, the mood was absent an ugly undercurrent.
Once expunged for his public labor advocacy during the Christie years and on the opposing side of Sweeney during ben-pen overhaul, a once crumpled figure all but booted out of the legislature for his pro-public sector views, Cryan praised Sweeney as a “great leader,” citing his flexibility, even as he likewise boosted Murphy as a “great governor”, while prompting a standing ovation for Blistan.
“We evolve, we adapt,” said the still-on-his-feet and senate reanimated Cryan, who quoted the Dead.
“What a long strange trip it’s been,” he added.