Town Hall in Harrison, NJ. Photo: DailyHarrison.com
The New Jersey legislature and governor Chris Christie have reached across party lines in an attempt to end excessive post-retirement payouts to public employees for accumulated sick leave. In Harrison alone, the New Jersey Senate Republicans estimate that the total sick leave liability to New Jersey public workers stands at more than $3.5 million. If this sum were to be paid out today, it would cost the average homeowner $979. While there has been disagreement on how to legislate such a reform, current bills released by the Assembly could potentially save New Jersey property taxpayers a significant amount of money.
The latest proposal advanced on Thursday, March 8. It advocates putting a stop to sick leave payouts, which often reach six figures, but will allow workers to keep what they have already accrued to date, according to an article published on The Republic. Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt’s proposal is a two-bill package that addresses union and non-union New Jersey workers. The Gloucester County Times reported that Lampitt’s bill (A-2489) would prohibit sick leave payments for non-unionized workers for anything earned after the bill’s effective date. The bills, for both union and non-union employees, would also impose a one year vacation carry-forward limit. In addition, if public employees are convicted of certain crimes related to their employment, they may have their sick and vacation leave suspended or surrendered.
Assemblywoman Lampitt, a Democrat, told The Republic, “We will finally end the outrageously large cash payments to public workers that don’t exist in the private sector and have burdened taxpayers for far too long. We will be implementing a reasonable and responsible system that in the long run benefits everyone.”
Assemblywoman Lampitt cited the $305,000 check that was handed to a police chief in Harrison when he left office as an example. According to The Republic, Lampitt argued that towns, counties, the state, school boards, and colleges are struggling and bearing the brunt of similar payouts to employees.
Lampitt’s second bill (A-1179), sponsored with Legislation Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty and Albert Coutinho, addresses retiring union workers. According to the Gloucester County Times, accumulated sick leave days could be credited toward post-retirement health insurance payments and unions could negotiate up to $7,500. For those not eligible for post-retirement medical benefits, the union could collectively bargain up to $7,500 for a Health Retirement Account to aid employees in paying co-pays and deductibles. The retirees would have to use the credits within five years of retirement. Veterans often receive medical benefits from the federal government. For this reason, they would have the ability to keep their sick leave up to the amount collectively bargained by their union.
VIDEO: SICK LEAVE REFORM - ASW PAM LAMPITT
Governor Christie, who has deemed these payouts “boat checks” due to their exorbitant sums, wants to axe payments entirely when it comes to new employees. Christie has vetoed bills in the past that offered any type of payout. While the Lampitt, Moriarty, and Coutinho bill allocates up to $7,500 to be credited toward health insurance payments, Christie has made it clear that it would have no cash value.
In a 2009, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation conducted research into government waste. The document containing the Commission’s findings states that these vacation and sick leave payouts are, “questionable benefit practices that collectively cost New Jersey taxpayers millions of dollars every year.”
Harrison is not immune and the cost to taxpayers is evident. During the last six years, the residential property taxes in Harrison have averaged a total of $2.4 million per year. Public employees who retired in this time frame received $1.8 million in combined payouts for accumulated sick and vacation days. This is more than half of the average annual community-wide tax bill.
Assemblyman Al Coutinho believes that this new legislation will put an end to excessive waste.
Coutinho told The Republic, “The so-called ‘boat check’ will be gone, and local governments will have the flexibility they need to negotiate what works best of their community.”
Democrats and Republicans still have some disagreement. Several Republicans, backing Christie, voted “no” saying that these bills still contain payouts. Many democrats gave the “yes” vote. as the bills nix the cash value, but also allow for collective bargaining.
The bills advanced following a 3-2 party-line vote.
Colleen Gore for DailyHarrison.com
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