As reported by nj.com, for 14 months, Governor Chris Christie and Democratic lawmakers have been at an impasse over payouts to public workers for unused sick time when they retire, further straining the budgets of municipalities. On Tuesday, however, Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced a measure that would end the practice for new employees and bar payouts to current workers for additional time accumulated, bringing the two sides closer than ever.
Still, neither Christie nor Sweeney’s Assembly counterpart, Speaker Sheila Oliver, were prepared to endorse the plan. In December 2010, Christie rejected a measure sponsored by Senator Paul Sarlo that would have limited the payouts for both new workers and more than 430,000 public employees to $15,000. In his conditional veto message, the Governor wrote that “sick leave is to be used when you are sick, not as a supplemental retirement fund.”
Currently, the payouts to state workers are capped at $15,000, while most local governments have no limits. Last year, The Star-Ledger reviewed eight cities that borrowed to make their payments or made layoffs that drew attention: Newark, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, South Brunswick, East Orange, and Hackensack. They paid more than $39 million to over 700 employees who cashed in unused sick days and vacation time, about $54,000 for each employee.
Neither Christie nor the Democrats have proposed eliminating the payouts that workers have already accumulated, although Christie did seek to reduce them. Under Christie’s plan, ill workers would have to take days off from sick time already accumulated, reducing their payouts when they retire. Sweeney’s proposal has no such provision.
In addition, unlike Christie’s plan, Sweeney’s proposal does not include a one year cap on accumulating unused vacation days, does not require doctors’ notes for absences of six or more consecutive days, and would not make workers forfeit unused sick days if convicted of work-related crimes.
Although Sarlo did not say how he felt about Sweeney’s plan, he said he was confident Democrats would work something out. “Whether it’s $15,000, $7,500, or $0 for new employees, at the end of the day we’ll get to something we all can live with,” he said, adding that he though Christie’s plan to make workers use up accumulated sick time before retirement was unconstitutional.