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(TRENTON) — Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem) released the following statement Monday after voting to approve legislation revising public worker pension and health benefits:

“I have devoted my life to educating children, and I am a proud member of the New Jersey Education Association.

“The ongoing debate surrounding public worker pensions and benefits has been extremely difficult. I do not appreciate the way public workers — especially teachers — have been vilified by some. Public workers and taxpayers deserve more statesmanlike leadership than what we’ve seen from the executive branch.

“But this much is clear — New Jersey taxpayers are overburdened and our pension and benefit system is unsustainable. If nothing is done, taxes will continue soaring and workers will not receive their benefits. Neither outcome is acceptable.

“The bills that I voted to approve are reasonable changes that will steer the system toward sustainability for public workers and provide savings to taxpayers, and I was pleased to see one of the bills amended to ensure the system’s sustainability and maximized savings.

“Requiring local government and school employees to pay 1.5 percent toward their health care would alone bring $314 million in savings next fiscal year. That is savings that I cannot ignore for the sake of all taxpayers, including public workers.

“I also want to make it clear so that everyone understands — most of these changes apply only to newly hired employees.

“But the next step is crucial. These changes mean nothing if Gov. Christie doesn’t live up to its his obligation to fund the pension system. It’s time for Gov. Christie to do his part, or we’ll continue digging a hole no matter what reforms we approve.

“It’s also time for teachers, public workers, residents and legislators to focus on the larger issue — the future of this state and our commitment to a quality education for our children.

“The longer we discuss pension and benefits the less time we will spend discussing a budget proposal that would assault public schools, the middle-class and poor in New Jersey and lead to massive teacher layoffs and sharp property tax increases.

“Many teachers aren’t just in danger of paying more for health care. They’re in danger of losing their jobs entirely.

“Our energy is better spent working together on defending our shared commitment to public education and trying to minimize the damage of Gov. Christie’s budget on New Jersey’s high quality of education.”

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