TRENTON - State workers could continue receiving free taxpayer-paid health care if they join a fitness program under changes proposed yesterday to a new labor contract.
The proposed changes to the state workers' contract came as the Assembly and Senate budget panels released this year's $33.48 billion state budget proposal that calls for no new taxes.
Under an agreement made with Gov. Corzine earlier this year, state workers would have been required to contribute 1.5 percent of their salary to their health-care costs.
But that new contribution would be scrapped under the proposed changes so long as state workers join a specially designed fitness program that would encourage exercise and regular physicals and health checks.
The health-care contribution was supposed to be implemented on July 1 and save taxpayers $60 million per year. The contribution was heavily opposed by two local state worker unions but was ultimately approved in April as part of the new four-year state worker contract.
The contribution was seen as a compromise for state workers, who would receive a 13 percent wage increase over four years, under the proposed contract.
The Corzine administration had touted the increased contributions as necessary to restrain employee benefits spending that has been consuming more of the state budget.
Corzine yesterday discounted claims the move gave the unions what they wanted.
He said the fitness program would be implemented as a four-year experiment to see if it helped cut health-care costs and estimated that only about half of those eligible would join because it would require giving personal information about their lifestyles.