NJ local officials, unions rally for last-gasp bid to head off tax hike
TRENTON – Officials from local governments and unions for the workers employed by them are pushing for the state to spend $350 million to offset a spike in health benefits costs – and say it must be done within two weeks, as the higher costs start in January.
In exchange for what they say would be a one-time subsidy, the coalition is guaranteeing $100 million in recurring cost savings for the State Health Benefits Plan.
And they say if the SHBP’s plan design committee does not come up with the promised savings, state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio would then have the power to impose changes unilaterally.
East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, president of the New Jersey Conference of Mayors, said the labor and management alliance on the issue reflects their common mission and understanding of the need to mitigate the cost increase.
“These enormous and precipitous health care premium hikes are completely unfair to our local towns, to our counties, to our public workers and to all taxpayers,” Mironov said.
Fran Ehret, New Jersey area director for the Communications Workers of America, said it seems that taxpayers don’t realize their property taxes will increase in 2023 – perhaps more than usual – due to the increased cost of health benefits. Such costs are exempt from the 2% cap on tax levy increases.
Ehret said information needed to assess why health care costs are increasing by more than 20% isn’t being provided. She said things must be done to focus cost-saving efforts toward insurers and hospitals that profit from the current dysfunctional system.
“The solution cannot continue to be cost-shifting to the workers,” Ehret said. “That just can’t be the answer all the time.”
Ehret said coalition members will be meeting with lawmakers this week to advocate for their plan.
They want $350 million from the state’s general fund surplus to be given to the Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services, which would provide grants to local employers proportionate to the size of their premium increases.
Employee contributions toward the cost of their health care would then increase by the same percentage as their employer, after the grant funds are applied.
Kevin Lyons, director of benefits for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said coalition members want to work with Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, as local officials from both parties are facing budget impacts as a result of the premium increase.
“We can’t do nothing,” Lyons said. “Otherwise, taxpayers will suffer, and the men and women of labor will suffer.”
The groups are also advocating to extend the open enrollment period for 2023 health benefits for a month, to allow workers a chance to understand their health-plan options and, potentially, give local employers more time to explore an alternative.