Jun 24, 2011 4:12 AM GMT
Note the bipartisan support for an important issue
New Jersey lawmakers tonight voted to enact a sweeping plan to cut public worker benefits after a long day of high-pitched political drama in the streets of Trenton and behind closed doors.
Union members chanted outside the Statehouse and in the Assembly balcony, and dissident Democrats tried to stall with amendments and technicalities. Although they successfully convinced top lawmakers to remove a controversial provision restricting public workers’ access to out-of-state medical care, they failed to halt a historic defeat for New Jersey’s powerful unions and a political victory for Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
"Together, we’re showing New Jersey is serious about providing long-term fiscal stability for our children and grandchildren," Christie said in a statement released after the vote. "We are putting the people first and daring to touch the third rail of politics in order to bring reform to an unsustainable system."
Christie and Republicans banded together with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) to advance the bill despite opposition from the majority of Democrats who control the Legislature.
More than 8,500 protesters, the most this year, poured into Trenton this morning with signs, speeches and their trademark inflatable rat. But most had dispersed by the time Democrats emerged from their hours-long caucus meetings where they debated the bill’s details and a separate budget proposal. The Assembly convened for a vote at about 6:15 p.m., more than five hours late, and lawmakers delivered speech after speech on the bill for nearly three hours.
"We cannot afford to put off these needed reforms for another year," said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), a sponsor. "Kicking the can down the road and doing nothing will only require more sacrifice from taxpayers and public workers in the future."