NJ Senate Approves Pension and Health Benefits Cuts

February 23, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The New Jersey State Senate has approved a package of bills cutting government pensions and health benefits.

The legislation would roll back pension benefits for government workers and teachers, and make public employees at all levels pay 1.5% of their salaries toward health benefits, matching what state workers contribute (see NJ Lawmakers Propose Pension and Health Benefit Cuts). The proposals would roll back a 9% pension increase approved in 2001, require new part-time workers to receive 401(k)-like plans rather than defined benefit plans, and raise the threshold to qualify for a taxpayer-funded pension to $5,000 in annual government pay, up from $1,500.

Under the legislation, to get a pension, new teachers and state workers would have to work 35 hours a week. State workers would have to work 35 hours a week to receive state health benefits; on the local level, the minimum would be 25 hours.

Other changes are aimed at preventing late-career pension boosts by calculating retirement payments on workers’ top five years of salary, rather than three. Those with multiple public jobs could choose just one for calculating retirement benefits. Sick-day payouts would be capped at $15,000.

In addition, a proposed constitutional amendment would require the state to make its full pension contributions. Full funding would be phased in over seven years, starting at the earliest with the 2011-12 state budget.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the New Jersey State Assembly plans to introduce its version of the Senate bills this week, but some of the measures may be altered. Additional proposals also are expected, including a measure to make the state pay its full pension contribution faster than in a Senate proposal, said Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, chairman of the Budget Committee, according to the news report.

New Jersey’s pension system is reportedly underfunded by $34 billion. A recent Pew Center on the States report put the state’s long-term shortfall for health benefits at $69 billion (see States Face $1Trillion Retirement Benefits Funding Gap).