Sick Leave Payouts Could Soon Be History For NJ Public Workers [VIDEO]
A bill designed to put an end to outrageous sick leave cash payments for public workers and eliminate any post-retirement sick leave benefit for non-unionized public workers going forward was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.
Governor Chris Christie and the Democrat-controlled Legislature agree it's time to stop huge end-of-career payouts to government employees for unused sick days, but there's been less agreement on how to legislate an end to the payouts that Christie mockingly calls "boat checks."
The two-bill package advanced yesterday is co-sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pam Lampitt, Paul Moriarty and Al Coutinho. It includes a bill that eliminates cash payments for sick leave accumulated after the bill's effective date and allows up to $7,500 in unused sick leave to be negotiated for use only as a credit towards post-retirement medical care.
The other bill targets what is considered a major problem with cash pay outs for sick leave by eliminating all future post-retirement sick leave benefits for non-unionized public workers such as administrators.
"This is a smart approach that puts taxpayers first," says Lampitt. "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'll be implementing a reasonable and responsible system that in the long run benefits everyone by putting an end to these unacceptable cash payouts."
Moriarty says, "This is a common sense approach to addressing this issue because it respects our constitutionally required obligations to existing public employees while reforming the system to benefit our taxpayers. Several efforts are under way right not to curtail this burden on the property taxpayers, and we must work together to come to a positive conclusion for taxpayers."
The measure would end payouts that can reach six figures from now on, but would allow employees to keep what they've lawfully accrued to date.
The cash-outs to retiring school administrators, police and firefighters, and other public-sector workers, is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Christie estimates the tab at $825 million for accumulated sick leave payments collectively owed to workers around the state. He refers to the payouts as "boat checks" because he says they are sometimes so large that retirees could finance a boat purchase.
Christie, who has been calling for legislation that ends the payouts entirely for newly hired workers, vetoed a bill capping the payouts at $15,000. Legislative sponsors then knocked the cap down to $7,500, but the governor threatened to veto that as well, so it didn't advance.
Senate President Steve Sweeney last month offered up a measure that halts payouts for unused sick time going forward. His bill allows employees to roll over the time and use it for illnesses, but not cash it out once they leave. It hasn't yet had a legislative hearing.
In testifying on behalf of her bill, Lampitt ticked off what many consider to be outrageous payouts that need to end: A former police chief in Harrison left office with a check for $305,000; the impoverished city of Camden paid $2.3 million to 20 retiring employees over four years ending in 2008; Counties, towns, colleges and school boards are straining under the weight of large payouts to longtime employees.
In December Christie also said, "Let's just get down to it, okay? Zero should mean zero and I don't see myself compromising on this……Everybody understands that sick leave should be when you're sick and their argument is; Well, people may use it otherwise in a fraudulent way therefore we have to pay them not to commit fraud."
For months, Christie has been hammering Democrats for not eliminating the payouts completely. He feels the current system is "another benefit that's given to public sector employees that they've come to count on, but that we simply can no longer afford to demand from the highest burdened taxpayers in America…I thought this would be a relatively easy and uncontroversial part of the toolkit. This should be easy. It makes no sense…Let's finish it. Let's clear the page on this. Let's get to the work of doing the right thing."
Under Sweeney's measure current public employees would be allowed to keep the amount of money they've accrued. However, they would not be permitted to bank any more sick leave after the measure becomes law. Future hires would not be permitted to build up pay for unused sick time.