Mayor’s Message: Trenton finally takes action for educators

Manzo discusses deal adjusting employee benefits for educators

By LOUIS MANZO
Harrison Township Mayor

Talk about timing. A week after I wrote in this column about my frustration over the lack of effectiveness in Trenton, bam, the most significant action from our state capital in recent memory was announced on March 9. Senate President Steve Sweeney and New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Marie Blistan announced a deal that will adjust the employee health benefits system for New Jersey educators and save $1 billion a year ($650 million in teacher premiums and $400 in taxpayer’s money). This is the kind of reform and action that is needed to get New Jersey on track to fiscal solvency.

I’m not implying that my article had any influence, since apparently this deal was many months in the making and the issue has been a hot potato in Trenton for years. But this agreement (which still needs the governor’s signature; expected to happen by the end of March) is a wonderful sign. Why? Because the players (Sweeney and the NJEA) have been heated rivals in recent years, with no line of communication except to vilify each other. Their kumbaya press conference marks a significant shift and that’s a good thing. Effective government is all about compromise. I hope this represents a sea change in Trenton.

As for this landmark agreement, there will be two new, lower-cost alternatives added to the benefit plan platform offered teachers. Existing members will have the option to switch, perhaps attracted by the lower premiums; while all new hires will automatically be enrolled in one of the new options. Though no details of the two new plans were provided at the press conference, they will both be gold-level plans. It was clear, however, that both sides were pleased as Sweeney touted it as a “huge announcement” coming up with over “$1 billion in savings” annually and Blistan called it “a major victory” that will “restore economic stability to this great profession.” She is referencing the required teacher contribution of as much as 35 percent of their salary towards the benefit cost.

Since I took the time to call out Trenton for their ineffectiveness just recently, I want to give credit where it’s due. So, I say congratulations and thank you to Steve Sweeney and his team and Marie Blistan and the NJEA leadership for finding the middle ground that will benefit everyone. This is the not-so-secret formula to addressing our state’s fiscal circumstances. Solutions, Compromise, Action. In fact, I see this agreement as a sign. If the two fiercest rivals in recent memory (Sweeney and the NJEA) can come to together for the greater good, nothing is out of reach. Resolution guarantees New Jersey’s evolution and our children’s future in this state. Keep this momentum.

Louis Manzo is the mayor of Harrison Township. He can be reached at LManzo@harristontwp.us.