New Jersey's Democratic-led Legislature gave final approval on Thursday to a plan that would force public workers to pay more for benefits -- a signature issue for Republican Governor Chris Christie.
The bill, which was bitterly opposed by public-sector unions
, would raise the retirement age and increase employee contributions to their pension and healthcare plans, reducing the state's burden by potentially tens of billions of dollars.
"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 said in a statement.
He said pension reform
would save New Jersey taxpayers more than $120 billion over the next 30 years, while reform of the state health benefits
system will save an additional $3.1 billion over the next decade.
New Jersey's Senate passed the measure earlier this week. The state Assembly approved it late on Thursday by a vote of 46 to 32
. Christie could sign the bill into law as early as Friday.
But the head of New Jersey's teachers' union said the bill "diminishes collective bargaining
for public employees and reduces pensions for current and future retirees."
Sherryl Gordon, a leader of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said passage of the bill was "a sad day for New Jersey's working families."