Christie: No compromise on sick-leave reform

SPOTSWOOD – On the first anniversary of his signing arbitration reform, one of three key property tax toolkit laws passed by Gov. Chris Christie – and maybe in the spirit of the holidays – the chief called for the leftovers.

Shared services, civil service, and sick leave reforms are still on the table, Christie told his audience at the Knights of Columbus hall in Spotswood.

Resuming his town halls in Middlesex County today, Christie reasoned with the audience on sick leave reform and why he has spurned a $7,500 cap compromise offered by state Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge.

“The arbitration system that sets salaries for public employees had run totally out of control,” Christie told the crowd, but he found compromise with the Democratic Legislature. Same was the case with the 2 percent property tax cap that kicked it all off, Christie said, the results of which “you will now see…in your next set of property tax bills, if you haven’t already (received it).”

Both measures were “critical element(s)” of the toolkit, he said, no less than pension and benefit reform, which is projected by the administration to save $132 billion over 30 years.

“We were willing to do some things that are difficult and we were willing to compromise with each other,” he said, “not something you see very much in Washington.”

But, he said, “We’ve got some things left to do.”

He said he and state Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), of West Deptford, are working on a bill to address  shared services and civil service at the same time, but sick pay is a different matter.

The new mayor of West New York, Felix Roque, told Christie that when an employee handed in over $300,000 in unused sick days, the mayor was aghast and asked for proof of the days.

As Christie recalled, Roque said, ” ‘Who keeps track of this,’ and she said, ‘I do.’ ”

“As a leader, your job is to try to find the boulevard between getting everything you want and compromising your principles,” Christie said. “You’ve gotta find that boulevard. Sometimes that boulevard is really narrow…On this sick pay issue, that boulevard is really narrow.” All of which is to say that Christie isn’t compromising on a zero-carry-forward policy.

The accumulated liability across the state totals $825 million now, Christie said, and the $15,000-carry-forward cap passed by the Legislature – which Christie conditionally vetoed – did nothing to address the problem.

So the answer from the Democrats, he said: “Hey governor, how about $7,500?”

“I felt like I was buying a car,” Christie said, as if the “prices they’re offering you have no relation with the cost of the vehicle.”

The administration estimates that the cap would extrapolate to an additional $3.25 billion in statewide liability.

To put it in perspective, Christie said, each homeowner in New Brunswick, another Middlesex County town, is already liable for $1,330 apiece.

Christie jokingly proposed holding retirement parties where the taxpayer can hand over the checks personally. “Then the person could at least say thank you,” he said.

“I’m not compromising on this one,” he said, encouraging the listeners to email their legislators: “On sick pay, zero means zero.” “I’m starting to get worried that I can’t get this done just by myself,” he said.

Democratic Assembly spokesperson Tom Hester said the initial effort on sick leave was a bipartisan bill, and that Christie’s conditional veto proposed an “unconstitutional alternative.”

“This is a key point,” Hester said in a release, “because no matter where one stands on the issue, a legal sick leave bill must still be signed into law.”

He also shook Christie’s initial civil service proposal, which abolished the practice altogether, eliminated “protections against political corruption and nepotism,” rather than “modernizing” the system, as a Democratic measure did.

Christie: No compromise on sick-leave reform