Gov. Chris Christie urged the Legislature on Thursday to pass his plan to eliminate vacation and sick time payouts for retiring public employees.
Christie called the reform a “common sense” measure and stressed the bipartisan support of 234 mayors across the state.
One of those mayors is Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor James Barberio.
"It is imperative that both houses pass this legislation. It's critical," Barberio told Patch.
"As the mayor of the largest municipality in [Morris] County, I know how high labor costs hit hard because of sick leave and vacation time," he said. "It's time to move forward and control costs the best we can. We have to find a way to control taxes, and this is one way."
Joined by 11 mayors at the armory in Teaneck, Christie said the payouts amount to a “a going-away present to public employees who had the great good fortune of not being sick.”
Liabilities for unused sick and vacation day benefits total more than $825 million statewide, Christie said. Morris County alone owes its employees a little more than 342 years worth of unused time, and the county's budget puts the cost at about $11.45 million.
According to the state Department of Community Affairs, if workers quit today expecting monetary remuneration for unused leave, Parsippany would owe $6,430,291 to cover the accumulated sick and vacation day payouts. Based on the average home value in this municipality, $309,044, according to the DCA, the average homeowner's portion of the liability would be $267.98.
“Every tax dollar that’s used to cash out unused sick and vacation days is a dollar that should be going to limit a tax increase and be sent right back to the taxpayer,” Christie said. "The only way to deal with property taxes is the lessen the amount we spend."
Christie 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.
Parsippany Township Councilman John Cesaro, however, gives the governor's measure an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
"The state is in a fiscal mess. Counties are struggling every month to make sure their resources can cover their costs. Municipalities and school districts are facing tough economic times trying to provide services while costs keep escalating," said Cesaro. "I support and welcome the reforms that will put all municipal entities from the state down to the towns back on fiscal track."