Senate President Steve Sweeney assembled 26 experts last year. They came up with 32 recommendations, a document Sweeney calls the “Path to Progress.”
He’s been touring the state with it. Tuesday, he presented it to members of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association at their headquarters in Trenton.
Its top line recommendations are:
- Reform the pension system
- Provide cheaper health care to public employees
- Consolidate K-6 and K-8 school districts into larger ones
- Put tolls on the interstates
- Identify state assets and leverage them
Sweeney said people are leaving New Jersey because it’s become too expensive to stay and he blames pensions and benefits.
“Our pensions and health care take up every single penny of new revenue growth now. There is no money for anything unless we raise taxes. I for one have had enough of raising taxes,” Sweeney said.
He said the pension system is in debt to the tune of $115 billion and Wall Street rating agencies continue to express alarm.
“What we’re proposing is very reasonable. Just last year, Pennsylvania came up with a new pension system for their employees. A new system, it’s what we’re proposing. It’s a hybrid — a pension on the first $40,000 and above that a 401(k),” Sweeney said.
A teacher’s family health care plan costs $39,000 a year, he said. He’s looking to shift all public workers from platinum level plans to gold.
“We want our teachers to have great health insurance, we want our workers to have great health insurance. But what’s wrong with Fortune 500 corporations? Johnson & Johnson, we’re talking about gold plans. The top corporations in this state provide this Obama gold category,” he said.
On consolidating schools?
“The goal is to eliminate the administration. Put a principal in the school, get rid of the school district, leave a principal, let the regional high school become a K-12 district. You’ll go from 600 school districts to 320. That’s not a bad idea. You’ll save probably close to a billion dollars,” Sweeney said.
He admits that it’s ambitious.
“The easy stuff was done. This is stuff that’s been talked about forever. Every time you try to do this you get the reception that I get normally, which is tar and feather you and really kick the crap out of you, and people don’t really like that when you’re in elected office. But I can tell you something. I came through most expensive legislative race in the history of the country, ever. I wear that with a badge of honor, and I kicked their ass. I felt that was a message for me that it’s time to fix this state and I’m committed to doing it,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney is touring the state with this plan as if he were governor. Last night he was in Camden, Tuesday in Trenton, Tuesday night in South Orange, and Wednesday night in Atlantic County.
And the outlook?
“I’ll get this done, Michael. It might not be today. It might not be tomorrow. But I’m telling you, this will get done in this state one way or another,” Sweeney said.