BY TOM HESTER SR.
As Gov. Chris Christie’s office Thursday announced that a bipartisan group of 234 mayors support the governor’s proposal to change how public employee sick leave and vacation pay is allotted, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said the legislation is unconstitutional.
The mayors, Republicans and Democrats from every county have joined Christie’s in calling for what he sees as the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s delay in acting on the proposal. The governor argues his proposal would save taxpayer dollars and deliver budget relief to cities and towns.
11 mayors joined the Christie at a press conference in Teaneck, including Bergen County Executive Kathe Donovan and Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, to call for “action on critical, common sense reforms that will provide significant taxpayer savings and give mayors the tools they need to manage their budgets and hold down property taxes for New Jersey families.”
The Legislature plans to adjourn for the holidays and end the its lameduck session on Dec. 15.
“After having specific bills to act on for nearly 19 months, it is past time for the legislature to stand up and give mayors the tools they are asking for to provide savings to taxpayers, including a complete end to the inexplicable practice of paying scarce taxpayer dollars for unused sick days,” Christie said. “Like the other tool kit bills, real sick and pension benefit reform is a common sense reform that has bipartisan support of mayors, local elected officials and lawmakers from communities all across our state – urban and suburban, shore and inland, Democrat and Republican. There is no excuse for the legislature’s continued failure to deliver savings to our cities and property taxpayers.”
Wisniewski charged the press conference was a publicity stunt.
"While the governor is again running a slick campaign to sell his sick and vacation benefit reform proposal, he might as well be trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge,” Wisniewski said. “His public relations effort offers a cynical and deceptive promise to local government officials all across the state.
“As a lawyer, he ought to know that his proposal to eliminate existing local government liabilities for sick and vacation payments amounts to an unconstitutional taking,” the Assemblyman said. “He also knows that local officials already have the power to negotiate caps on retirement payouts. When the governor decides to have a serious discussion about the issue, Democrats have proposals they would be more than happy to discuss with him."
Christie said liabilities facing taxpayers across the state for unused sick and vacation day benefits total more than $825 million. In Teaneck, taxpayers have nearly $4.4 million in total sick and vacation liabilities owed to public workers. For Bergen County as a whole, municipal liabilities total nearly $91.8 million.
The governor said mayors understand that the inaction of the Legislature has an impact on the major cost drivers in their budgets and how effectively they can control property taxes under the 2 percent property tax cap.
Among the mayors supporting Christie’s proposal are Rose Heck, Hasbrouck Heights; Dana Redd, Camden; Bernie Platt, Cherry Hill; Albert Kelly, Bridgeton; James Gaspirini, Fairfield; Peter Hughes, Glen Ridge; Sandy Haimoff, Millburn; Joe Alessi, North Caldwell; Joseph Tempesta, West Caldwell; Robert Parisi, West Orange; Raymond McDonough, Harrison; Dawn Zimmer, Hoboken; Brian Stack, Union City; David DelVecchio, Lambertville; John Bencivengo, Hamilton; Wilda Diaz, Perth Amboy; Kennedy O'Brien, Sayreville; Ed Johnson, Asbury Park; James Anzaldi, Clifton, and Joseph Menza, Hillside.
Christie’s office offered these examples of what the accumulated sick and vacation time owed to public employees in nine cities means per taxpayer:
New Brunswick: $14.5 million in accumulated payouts or $1,330 per taxpayer
Jersey City: $74 million or $1,174
Hackensack: $18.9 million or $1,030
Newark: $46.1 million or $770
Atlantic City: $34.6 million or $426
Camden: $23.2 million or $770
Elizabeth: $18.3 million or $691
Edison: $14.6 million or $352
Union City: $14.6 million or $493