The New Jersey Assembly is set to pass a Wisconsin-style FU to it’s public employees today. The bill passed the State Senate by a wide margin on Monday. The floor time for the bill, A4133, is scheduled for 1:00 PM Eastern time (30 minutes from publication of this article). The stakes are profoundly high:

The bill increases pension costs up to two percent of workers’ salaries for all public employees, while at least doubling, and in many cases tripling, their health care contributions. It also raises the retirement age from 62 to 65, eliminates cost-of-living adjustments and creates a board to formulate a menu of health plans, including low-cost, high-deductible options.

This is just as radical as Wisconsin. No COLA increases? Taking away collective bargaining for health benefits? At least doubling health care contributions even when to all appearances health benefits will deteriorate? These are direct attacks on the ability of the middle class to sustain itself.

Governor Chris Christie is, of course, pleading poverty and tough decisions needing to be made.

Christie says without such changes, the state’s pension system will eventually go broke after his predecessors shirked their responsibility to pay into the system.

So, your argument is that you need to legally be able to not meet the obligations of New Jersey’s pension fund because your predecessors did not meet the obligations of New Jersey’s pension fund. Can someone explain to me how it’s a tough decision to go with the established momentum on the fiscal side of this issue instead of looking the rich in the eye and telling them to pay up?

But wait – the New Jersey situation is actually worse than it looks. Unlike Wisconsin, where elected Democrats sided with workers and famously left the state to avoid enabling Republicans to pass their plan, the New Jersey austerity plan is being pushed through with the help of Democrats. Assemblyman and Budget Committee Chariman Louis Greenwald is the primary Democratic sponsor in the State Assembly. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, also a Democrat, had this to say on the Senate floor regarding the legislation (which he wrote):

“Problems like the pension and health care system require fundamental change from the bottom up,” Sweeney said on the Senate floor. “That kind of change comes from bold action … and bold action often flies in the face of those who are content with the status quo.”

If you’ve inferred by now that the entire New Jersey legislature is controlled by Democrats, you get a gold star.

Senate President Sweeney (D?!?!) is right that “bold action often flies in the face of those who are content with the status quo.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how what he and Governor Christie are in cahoots to accomplish is “bold action”. As in, wouldn’t bolder action be to take on the rich in your state and force them to pay their fair share so that the state can live up to it’s contractual obligations to workers? Shifting the costs to less powerful people is not bold action – that is the path of least resistance. Taking on the rich and forcing it down their throat would be actual bold action.

It’s a brave man that chooses to screw over people that are weak so that he can avoid inflicting a minor inconvenience on those that are powerful. Somehow I think this brave public servant will still be counting on the votes of union members around election time (this is New Jersey, after all).

He should not get those votes, nor should any Democrat in New Jersey, if this abomination becomes law. I will even submit that a “no votes” position should go for the many Assembly and Senate Democrats who have spoken out against this (because if you call yourself a Democrat, and your party stabs unions in the back, you shouldn’t be comfortable calling yourself a Democrat anymore, should you?).

However, like Wisconsin, all is not lost yet. There is a court battle ahead. The Communication Workers of America Local 1033 has 7,000 members enrolled in New Jersey’s state retirement programs and yesterday they sued the State of New Jersey in federal court over the proposed changes:

The local claims that skipping pension payments violates a U.S. constitutional provision saying that no state shall pass any “law impairing the obligation of contracts,” and that it runs afoul of a similar provision in the New Jersey constitution. The union also says that the indefinite suspension of cost-of-living increases would violate the U.S. and state constitutions.

“This was a methodical process of starving the proverbial beast,” Anthony Miskowski of Somerset, one of nine CWA members who joined the suit, said at a news conference at the local’s headquarters in Trenton. “Well, the beast did not die. The beast only grew to be angry, and now the beast is in the position to gobble up the budget of the state of New Jersey.”

Please, if you are in New Jersey, grab a friend, run (don’t walk!) to Trenton and get in these people’s faces.

For the comments – Any NJ bar members on FDL that can give us an idea of what the odds on the CWA lawsuit might be?

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