Murphy Says He Doesn't Know Cost of Raises He Just Gave Workers

(Bloomberg) -- Governor Phil Murphy said he doesn’t know the cost to taxpayers of raises he gave to 35,000 New Jersey state workers, members of a union that supported his candidacy.

Communications Workers of America ratified a four-year contract retroactive to July 1, 2015, and with 2 percent raises for 2017 and 2018, according to a May 1 announcement from Murphy’s office and the union. The costs were figured into the fiscal 2019 and 2018 spending plans, the governor’s office said, without providing a total amount.

Murphy’s communications staff didn’t return emails seeking comment on the cost. After a bill signing in Trenton, where he enacted a paid sick-leave mandate for New Jersey employers, the governor said he doesn’t know the cost of the contract.

"We don’t know the exact number but our folks are working on the program details,” Murphy told reporters in Trenton. “This is not that big a deal. It’s the right thing to do for workers and working families. I’m very comfortable with where we came out.”

The governor’s predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, became a national figure after clashes with labor organizations and cuts to workers’ benefits and pensions. Murphy, 60, won last year’s governor’s race with financial support from union-based political-action committees.

The raises alone would total roughly $85 million for two years, according to Bloomberg calculations based on 35,000 workers paid an average $60,000. That doesn’t include onetime $650 payments to some workers, retroactive eye-care reimbursements and uniform allowances.

“After three long years, this contract represents a reasonable and responsible agreement,” Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior director, said in a statement. “We have established a solid foundation for future negotiations that considers fairness for our middle-class and working families.”

But Senator Anthony Bucco, the Republican budget officer, said the agreement “wasn’t as much a contract negotiation as it was a pure giveaway.”

It’s “outrageous,” Bucco said in a statement, that Murphy would give pay increases to union members “without demanding anything in return for taxpayers, like concessions on expensive health benefits.”

Lawmakers are holding hearings on Murphy’s proposed $37.4 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. His spending plan depends on legislative approval of $1.5 billion in revenue from new or expanded taxes on retail sales, millionaires, yet-to-be legalized marijuana, electronic cigarettes, corporations and such services as Uber and Airbnb.

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