New Jersey Republicans are clearly in the minority after the state's elections but that hardly means that they won't be a factor when it comes to pressing policy issues. State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R - 21st District) told NJBIZ that lowering property taxes, a moderate minimum wage increase and healthcare reform are at the top the party's agenda.
Kean also said members of the party will reach across the aisle on pressing issues, even though they are outnumbered 25-15 in the Senate and 54-26 in the Assembly.
“We’re still unified,” said Kean. “It’s still important that we contribute to solutions and engage in debates focusing on the issues and concerns of residents across the state. There are many things we can do to start to reduce the tax crisis. [State Republicans] have offered over the last several years, a common sense plan that will bring businesses here.”
Kean said that Republicans will advocate for tax reform legislation proposed earlier this year by state Senator Jennifer Beck (R – 11th District). Her legislation proposes raising the $10,000 limit on state income tax deduction for property taxes paid by home owners and renters by $2,500 per year over a three-year phase-in period.
Kean said that legislation is particularly crucial now given that under the controversial GOP tax plan being debated in US Senate, federal income tax deductions for state and local taxes would be eliminated.
“I think we have to be very focused on what’s happened on the federal level, and how federal tax policy may compound taxes on the state level. We need to be focused on legislation that will not increase the tax burden on people in the state” he said. “The cost of living here is too high.”
Kean also said that a proposed bi-partisan solution to raising minimum wage to $15 per hour would be too much of a burden on companies operating in the state. He did acknowledge that the issue might be a battle, since Governor-elect Murphy advocated raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 throughout his campaign.
“Senate Republicans believe we can increase minimum wage by a moderate amount, but that’s not $15,” he said. “We can raise it and reduce the tax burden on the middle class. I think we can find some real common ground here,” he said.
Kean has proposed that if state Democrats can reduce the income tax for families earning less than $110,000 and individuals earning $50,000 to $70,000, the Republicans would be willing to support a moderate raise in New Jersey’s minimum wage to a “fair” level.
“We have no intention of being the party of ‘no,’” he said. “I think there are seasonal differences, there are age differences, there are training differences when people look to see whatever the extent of the minimum wage is, it should certainly be less than $15, because that would drive many businesses and employees out of work,” said Kean.
Healthcare is another bi-partisan issue that Republicans will look to address. In particular, state politicians on both sides of the aisle are expected to continue to focus on a bill that has floated in the Senate since the summer that would cap the costs charged by out-of-network doctors.
The bill was introduced by Senator Paul Sarlo (D – 36th District) and would not require patients to pay more than their usual co-payment if they receive care from an out-of-network hospital or doctor. The bill would shield patients from getting a big charge by an out-of-network doctor, such as an anesthesiologist, even if they are undergoing surgery at an in-network hospital.
It would also create a single, binding arbitration process to settle disputed bills for out-of-network emergency care, and require transparency from doctors and hospitals by compelling them to reveal whether they are part of an insurance network before treatment is administered.
The Senate bill estimates that out-of-network doctors in the state have cost state residents roughly $1 billion per year.
Organizations such as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, as well as Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NJ, support the bill.
“You have a microscopic number of largely specialists and super-specialists who are out-of-network and driving up the cost of healthcare astronomically,” said William Castner, senior vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs at Horizon, during a NJBIA healthcare conference last month.
“I think the overall concern here is to find common ground on the transparency issue on out-of-network doctor costs,” Kean told NJBIZ. “There is one version that Senator Sarlo has sponsored that is focused on transparency. The version in Assembly has already been passed, so there is already a solution to this. We will work to get a bipartisan agreement on it.”