Editorial: Dreadful choice for negotiator

Dreadful choice for negotiator
Asbury Park Press on 09/24/06

The legislative hearings in Trenton on public employee benefits reforms have provided absolutely no reason for optimism that lawmakers are prepared to do what is necessary to bring health care and pension costs under control.

Unfortunately, neither has the opening of contract talks between the Corzine administration and state employee unions, whose contracts expire in June. Those unions, along with the New Jersey Education Association, have made it clear they will resist any changes that would reduce the health and pension benefits of their members — present and future.

That's not to say the administration doesn't have a hammer it can use to get them to change their minds, including the threat of massive layoffs. But any glimmer of hope that Corzine was prepared to play hardball with the unions vanished last week with the announcement that the administration will be represented in the contract talks by Angelo Genova, longtime counsel to the state Democratic Committee and a former Gov. James E. McGreevey appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Genova, you may recall, helped draft the pay-to-play ban under McGreevey that left enough holes in it to drive a truck through. Fearful the holes weren't large enough, Genova sent out a memo advising vendors for state contracts how they could circumvent the law's restrictions. Over the last three years, Genova has contributed more than $37,000 to Democratic candidates, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, former McGreevey aide Paul Aronsohn, Assemblyman Albio Sires and Rep. Donald Payne of Newark.

Assigning any Democratic Party loyalist in this state to negotiate with the employee unions is a bit like handing a pyromaniac a blow torch and asking him to put out a fire. Corzine should have brought someone in from the outside — someone with no personal or political stake in the outcome — to negotiate on behalf on New Jersey's taxpayers.

Genova in one seat? Ex-Corzine gal pal and union president Carla Katz across from him in another? Don't hold your breath for a deal that will change your mind about moving to the Carolinas.

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