Lawmakers order further study of CEO commission's ideas

BY Matt Pilon

Former CEOs Bob Patricelli (left) and Jim Smith are pleased at least some of their proposals found their way into the state budget, albeit in the form of studies.
While it's far less than the CEO-led Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth had hoped for, lawmakers threw them a few bones in the state budget bill approved late Wednesday night.

While major recommendations like highway tolls and collective bargaining changes ultimately didn't gain enough traction, legislators ordered the creation of several new panels to study spending reductions, teachers retirement system reform, and tax rebalancing -- with all three reports due next year.

The commission had once hoped that the legislature would enact the entirety of its wide-ranging recommendations released in early March.

But parts of the plan faced strong opposition from labor, and it became clear by April that there would be a piecemeal approach.

"We are pleased that several studies of proposals made by the Commission were authorized as part of the bill, indicating serious interest in our work," commission co-chairs Robert Patricelli and Jim Smith said in a statement Thursday. "These studies are only seeds, which might grow into structural reform in future years – rather than reform itself – but it is a start down the long road of fixing our state's deep-seated problems."

"Nevertheless," they continued. "It must be said that the legislature once again focused on short-term budget fixes rather than on long-term structural reform. Perhaps that is all that can realistically be expected in a short session and in an election year."

The budget creates a seven-member panel to study rebalancing state taxes with the aim of stimulating economic growth without raising net new taxes, including an evaluation of new revenue sources for cities and towns, and incorporating the work of a prior State Tax Panel formed in 2015.

A separate six-member panel will consider a 30-year contribution of lottery net proceeds to the Teachers' Retirement Fund to pay down unfunded liabilities, re-amortization of remaining fund liabilities in 2025, and the creation of a hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new teachers with risk sharing on investment returns.

Finally, the Office of Policy and Management will hire a consultant to identify $500 million in expense reductions and revenue collection improvements. The commission had called for a target of $1 billion.