Sweeney-Murphy Showdown on Pensions Likely in 2020
With 2020 just beginning, there is plenty to keep an eye on in Trenton.
The political infighting among Democrats who firmly control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office is likely to continue and even intensify, especially over the issue of affordability.
There has been no love lost between state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy. Murphy used his money to force Sweeney out of the race for governor and the two have had bad blood ever since.
Even Murphy’s lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver (who was once Sweeney’s counterpart as Assembly speaker), has been unable to broker a truce. While Murphy continues to target Sweeney ally and South Jersey power broker George Norcross, Sweeney is solidifying his political alliances in Central and North Jersey.
Sweeney joined Sens. Nick Scutari and Joe Cryan for their annual Union County reorganization meeting earlier this month. His presence was a powerful one, signaling solid alliances in a key Democratic county.
Sweeney has been working on solidifying his caucus in the Senate as he prepares to advance key portions of his Path to Progress initiative. Sweeney has called pension reforms critical to New Jersey’s long-term future and affordability. Sweeney’s plan would spare police and firefighters, but would dramatically alter retirement benefits for new government workers and those with less than five years of seniority. It will be interesting to watch if Murphy will allow any space for compromise and risk angering the powerful public employee unions that have supported him.
If Murphy does not support Sweeney’s reforms, voters may be asked to decide the issue. That would be a radical move, but Sweeney has already said it’s a possibility. He has already begun holding town hall meetings around the state to garner public support. However, it is not clear if the Assembly would approve placing pension reforms on the ballot. If it did happen, it would take Murphy out the equation entirely. It would also trigger one of the nastiest public fights in recent memory.
Public employee unions would likely spend record amounts of money to try and defeat the initiative. Sweeney and his allies would likely do the same.
With more New Jersey residents pinched by higher taxes and focused on affordability, this issue is likely to be thrust to the forefront of the next legislative session.