Gov. Chris Christie urged the Legislature on Thursday to pass his plan to eliminate vacation and sick time payouts for retiring public employees, but Long Branch Mayor Adam believes doing so will not have the same financial effect that the goveror hopes it will.
Joined by Bergen County mayors at the armory in Teaneck, Christie said the payouts amount to “a going-away present to public employees who had the great good fortune of not being sick.” But Doherty said he would rather see the state reform civil service and arbitration so municipalities could negotiate more freely with labor unions.
In 2010, would have been liable for $6,788,090 in accumulated absence time to all of its public employees if they had retired that year, according to figures released by the state Department of Community Affairs. That would have costed each residential property taxpayer $635.
Liabilities for unused sick and vacation day benefits total more than $825 million statewide, Christie said. Monmouth County alone owes its 3,294 employees more than 44 years worth of unused time, and the county's budget puts the cost at $5.5 million, according to statewide statistics.
Mayor Schneider said although eliminating the payouts could be save some money, he does not believe it is a perfect financial decision
"I'm in favor of anything that makes the city less expensive to run, however I think a good approach is for this to be negotiated," Mayor Schneider said. "Forcing this employees would have negative effects."
Mayor Schneider said the state has already limited the amount of time sick time an employee can retire, so limiting that would be detrimental to them.
"Very few employees carry more than they can take with them," Mayor Schneider said.
When it comes to vacation time, Mayor Schneider said although vacation time is earned, that perhaps, it would be a good thing to ake employees take their vacation time in one calendar year.
"However, I'm still not sure how much of a savings that would create," he said. "We have a lot of employees and want to make sure they have options."
Christie has called on the Legislature to take action during the remaining 30 days of the lame duck session. The Legislature has approved a $15,000 cap on the payouts and Democrats have proposed scaling it back to a $7,500 cap.
Christie, however, said the payouts must be scrapped altogether.
“These numbers have no bearing to anything that’s real,” he said. “They’re just picking out numbers as a gift to public employees for not being sick.”
He said the argument made by some opponents of the reform — that employees would start using sick days as time off — is without merit.
"I can’t believe that we’re not going to do a common sense reform because we say we can’t control fraud," he said.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who sat in on the press conference, said Democrats have made attempts to work with Christie.
“As with most things the governor brings up, reality is often a little more complex than his rhetoric,” Weinberg said in a statement.
“We need to ensure that in our rush to reform the system, we do not push long-time workers to the exit. If we do, local governments will be faced with having to pay all of those retiring workers now, inadvertently putting themselves in an even more tenuous fiscal position," she said.
Christie called the reform a “common sense” measure and stressed the bipartisan support of 234 mayors across the state.