TRENTON – On Tuesday, hundreds, if not thousands, of public workers crowded around the Statehouse to chant, to wave signs and to condemn plans to raise their 2023 health insurance contributions in some cases by more than 20 percent.
On Wednesday, state officials approved the increases with no public discussion or acknowledgement of the loud demonstration that happened just 24 hours ago.
Government, of course, is supposed to be “public.” In a literal sense, the action by the State Health Benefits Commission was public in as much as it occurred at a public meeting.
But those listening to the tele-conference had to wonder how the three commission members who endorsed the new rates were so detached to the reality of the moment. What makes things a bit more mind boggling is that the three “yes” votes came from individuals representing the “pro-union” administration of Phil Murphy.
How hard would it have been for one of the three to say something like, “I saw the outpouring of opposition yesterday. It was moving. Nonetheless, these rate hikes are necessary because ….. ”
That didn’t happen. Talk about an example of sheltered bureaucrats.
For the record, the three yes votes came from Danielle Schimmel representing the Treasury Department, Gale Simon representing the Banking and Insurance Department and Deirdre Webster Cobb of the Civil Service Commission.
The two union members on the commission are Jennifer Higgins, who represents state government employees, and Dudley Burdge, who represents local government workers.
Higgins voted no. Burdge abstained, saying he wanted separate votes on the rate increases for state and local employees. Instead, there was one vote.
Burdge was the most outspoken during the meeting, saying the increases are way out of line. He also said that the commission majority should have been willing to discuss precisely how the increases came about.
He was particularly irked that no one from Horizon New Jersey was at the meeting.
Schimmel, who just became commission chair, said reams of information about the increases had been submitted and that the commission followed the same procedure it always does with such things.
It is understood that health care is complicated and that setting reasonable rates can be complex.
The point is, it would have been nice for all commission members to show some public empathy for workers, many of whom are not well paid.
After the quick vote, Burdge saw problems ahead.
Not only will higher costs adversely impact town budgets, he said much higher health contributions will lead to a “massive exodus” of public employees.