NJ taxpayers continue to pay millions for sick-leave payouts
Twenty years after issuing a report detailing how many public workers are collecting lavish benefit packages — receiving huge checks when they retire for unused sick days — the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation is out with an updated analysis that finds the practice continues in municipalities across the Garden State.
It’s a problem that is costing Garden State taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
“How much more evidence do we need to take action? There’s no better time to do it than now,” said state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, the Senate Republican budget officer.
He said while New Jersey law has capped sick day payouts at $15,000 for public employees, there are multiple loopholes in these statutes that allow even larger payouts in many cases, including letting employees cash in unused sick days every year instead of waiting until they retire.
Oroho supported an effort mounted in the Legislature a decade ago to do away with any sick leave payouts, one supported by then-Gov. Chris Christie, but ultimately a compromise $15,000 cap was implemented.
“We would be in much different shape now if we had taken action in this a long time ago,” he said.
So why wasn’t a stricter law governing sick leave payouts ever passed in Trenton?
“The legislature tends to be very responsive to local officials, and if the local officials aren’t demanding it, it’s hard to see a lot of leadership among legislative leaders,” said Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.
He pointed out the people who accrue these benefits “are some of the longest serving and therefore some of the most powerful people in a municipal workforce, and this could make them hesitant and resist changing the current system.”
Dworkin said elected officials need to hear a public outcry about sick leave payouts for something to happen.
“If they don’t feel the pressure from the local folks in their neighborhood, then there won’t be enough pressure to change. They are politicians and they are responsive to voters and public opinion.”
He pointed out this issue needs to be addressed on the state level, instead of allowing different towns to adopt different approaches about how sick days will be handled.
He noted the current system with a $15,000 cap is not effective because when you restrict something in one place in New Jersey, it simply gets renegotiated.
“The employee views it as part of their compensation — and if you’re going to take something away from me in retirement, then I’m going to ask for it up front.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com