Sweeney Joins Public Forum at Eagleton
Discussion Puts Focus on Government Reforms
New Brunswick – Speaking at a public policy forum at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, Senate President Steve Sweeney discussed the cost-cutting reforms in the “Path to Progress” report, including those that will produce savings and efficiencies for municipalities, county governments, local school districts and their employees.
Moderating the forum was John Weingart, Associate Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Also participating were Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex/Warren/Morris), and Richard Keevey, Senior Policy Fellow at the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, as well as students, faculty and staff.
Senator Sweeney emphasized the need to confront New Jersey’s mounting fiscal problems so that the state can make critical investments in education, transportation, higher education and social services, among other priorities.
“We have to face up to the reality of the deep fiscal crisis we are facing,” said Senator Sweeney. “We can’t grow our way out of it, we can’t tax our way out of it, and it won’t go away by ignoring it. If we refuse to make the needed reforms, we won’t have the ability to fully fund our schools, lower college tuition costs, take over Special Education costs, fix NJ Transit or make other investments for the people of New Jersey.”
The discussion also included proposals to address soaring pension and benefit costs, make government and school districts more efficient, assess the efficiency of our tax structure and leverage state assets.
To capture savings, the report’s recommendations includes merging the high-cost School Employees Health Benefits Plan (SEHBP) into the lower-cost State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP) to take advantage of the cost savings negotiated by the Governor and the state’s largest public workers union. Combining the two healthcare plans will save money at the local level and reduce costs for school employees.
The merger would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for local governments, school systems and their employees, with more savings in future years as additional school districts and government entities rejoin the SHBP.
“A number of the bipartisan fiscal reforms we are discussing today would make New Jersey more affordable for years to come,” said Senator Oroho, (R-Morris/Sussex/Warren). “We shouldn’t let another budget cycle go by without taking action to control spending and improve government efficiency. We need to work together to make New Jersey a place where everyone, from young families to retirees, can afford to live.”
Significant cost savings and educational and service improvements can also be achieved through initiatives such as K-12 regionalization, increased use of shared services at both the county and municipal levels, and shifting the cost of Extraordinary Special Education from the local to the state level, according to the report.
“We are one of the best states in the country when it comes to having an educated workforce with the skills and qualifications necessary to meet the growing demands of business and we can be better,” said Senator Sweeney. “We need to work on the continued expansion of Pre-K, full funding for schools, college affordability and vocational education. But these goals can only be realized if we have the resources to support them.”
Senator Sweeney repeated his pledge that the Path to Progress legislative package will not require retirees to pay more for their healthcare coverage.
“Forums that bring political leaders together with students and others in the Rutgers community are important for demystifying government and politics,” said John Weingart. “They create space for informative, civil conversation about some of the most pressing public policy challenges facing New Jersey and the nation.”