By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Organized labor, joined by the two top Democratic legislative leaders, held one last desperate press conference this morning.
They called on the governor to reconsider his opposition to full funding of the pension system.
And they called on Republican legislators to override Chris Christie’s anticipated veto.
“We need bipartisan leadership on this issue. In fact, let’s be blunt. We need some Republicans to step up to the plate,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer.
“They have put their loyalty to the governor over their responsibility to the public. And that is wrong. They should be voting for this budget today. Our members are not gonna forget that in November,” said Hetty Rosenstein.
Two hours later the Senate became the first house to take up the budget bill.
Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo made the case for the Democrats, reminding Republicans that by law they should be putting $3.1 billion into pensions next year.
“For those who voted for the 2011 pension and health benefit reforms, by not making this $3.1 billion payment, you are breaking your obligation, your contract,” Sarlo said.
But Republicans were unmoved.
One after another, they rose to register their objections.
“It is our responsibility to pass a budget that serves the interests of all New Jerseyans, not just the public sector,” said Anthony Bucco.
“It’s important that we fix the pension system, the health care system. But we have to have the resources,” said Steve Oroho.
The Republicans are adamantly opposed to the Democrats’ funding mechanism, which involves hiking the tax on income over $1 million and placing a surcharge on the corporate business tax.
“We are creating a statewide hostile work environment for every small, medium and large business in New Jersey. That’s what we’re doing, statewide,” said Sen. Kevin O’Toole.
“We haven’t solved any problem. We’ll be right back here next year asking, ‘What taxes are you gonna raise to continue to meet this?’ That plan is not going to work,” said Sam Thompson.
Republicans want to reopen a conversation about the recommendations of Christie’s blue ribbon pension study commission.
“Why do we kid ourselves? Why do members of this legislature kid themselves? Why do union leaders kid themselves? Why aren’t they honest to the worker out there that everybody that depends on the pension in the future, including members of this legislature. We should be looking at those recommendations. You don’t like them? Let’s do something intellectually honest that might be different,” said Sen. Joe Kyrillos.
But Democrats say Christie crossed them twice on this issue and they’re not revisiting the study commission report.
“He says I need people to come back to the table. Who would come back to the table? Who? If it’s a double-pinky swear I’ll do it this time?” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Ultimately the Senate approved the budget 24-16 along strict party lines.
Then the Assembly took up the budget and debated the tax bills that support the added funding.
“We need to attract jobs and we need to attract business to this state. We need to be competitive,” said Jon Bramnick .
“Under funding the pension payment puts this state deeper in the debt, lowers its credit rating and hurts our economy,” said Lou Greenwald .
“And when you talk about pensions these are not lavish pensions. A recent report on the top 100 pension systems in the nation — we were 95th,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
The governor is expected to veto the tax hike bills as early as tonight or tomorrow. He has a five-day window to act.