The rate of tax growth has slowed during Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration -- but half of voters still named New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes as their most pressing concern. Bob Jordan
The Christie administration is considering a rule change that would finally bring a modicum of common sense to rules governing payouts for unused sick and vacation days. The question is what took Gov. Chris Christie so long to propose it.
The rule, which could take effect by the end of the year, would stipulate that going forward, unused time would be paid out at the rate an employee was being paid when he or she banked it, not at the hourly rate of the employee’s final salary. The difference would be substantial.
A better solution, of course, would be one endlessly discussed, but never acted upon, since the early days of the Christie administration: Either placing a strict dollar cap on payouts or not allowing any carryover of sick or vacation days at all.
It should be noted that in 2010 Christie proposed a $15,000 limit on retirement payouts for sick and vacation days that received bipartisan approval in the Legislature. But he then vetoed the bill, saying the payouts should be altogether eliminated, not capped. Christie also later rejected compromise bills that would have reduced the payouts to $7,500.
The failure to compromise on the amount of the cap and to enact rule changes on how unused sick and vacation time is calculated has likely cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. An analysis by Gannett New Jersey in April found that more than $1.14 billion was owed to thousands of public employees for unused sick and vacation leave.
Rarely a week goes by without a new report of huge payouts being made to retiring school superintendents, police chiefs and other government officials who ostensibly worked for decades without ever, or rarely, being out sick or taking a vacation day. Another belated reform under consideration by the Christie administration would require that employees putting in their claims for unused time actually be responsible for documenting it.
The examples of abuses have been well-documented. At the top of the list was the $600,000 payout for unusued sick and vacation time for retiring Long Branch Superintendent Joseph M. Ferraina. It also was gag-inducing when Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, who retired as the Toms River police chief at the end of 2013 to become the county sheriff, received $238,692 in unused sick and vacation pay.
But it isn’t just the high-earners that are taking huge bites out of taxpayers’ pockets. When you multiply even the smaller payouts for the more than 500,000 New Jersey public employees entitled to them, it adds up.
Christie rode into office in 2009 as the governor who was going to reduce the cost of government and end the abuses that were making New Jersey unaffordable. The Democratic majority in the Legislature deserves much of the blame for his failure to deliver on his promise. But looking back at his failure to act on steps that could have made a substantial difference in curbing sick and vacation day excesses should be enough to make you nauseous.