The New Jersey Assembly passed a bill on Thursday that would cut pension and health insurance benefits for some 750,000 state employees and retirees, which the governor says will save the state billions.
Despite weeks of protest from government employees and most Democrats, the state House passed the bill 46 to 32. The measure, which passed the state Senate late last week, will now head to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk where he is expected to sign the measure soon.
Christie and his fellow Republicans banded together with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D) to advance the bill, in what he called “bipartisanship that the president and Congress could only aspire to.”
“I would not have been able to achieve this for New Jersey without the Senate president and the Assembly speaker. Everybody came together and put aside party,” he told "Today Show" host Matt Lauer on Friday. “We got into the ring, we battled it out, we came to a compromise, we convinced our colleagues, and we did it.”
The bill requires teachers, police, firefighters, and other public employees to pay a portion of their health care premiums based on their income. Employees earning $60,000 who are currently paying $900 annually will see premiums more than double to $2,056 for individuals and $3,230 for families. Retirees and those with at least 20 years of service will continue to get free health care in retirement. Employees will see pension contributions rise by at least 1 percent of their salary. Retiree cost-of-living adjustments would be suspended.
Christie's administration said the cuts would save $3 billion in health benefits over the next 10 years and $120 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years.
Since taking office last year, Christie has taken a hatchet to state-funded programs – proposing cuts to unemployment benefits and battling with the teacher’s union to end teacher tenure. But his cost-saving cuts have made him very unpopular in the Garden State. A recent Quinnipiac poll found 47 percent of New Jersey residents disapproved of the job the governor has been doing.
“You earn political capital in order to spend it to achieve big things,” he said regarding his approval rating. “What makes what’s happening in New Jersey different from what’s happening in other places is we did it in a bipartisan way. This isn’t just a Republican plan or a Democratic plan; it’s a bipartisan plan where we compromised to put the people first.”