Lawmakers weigh in on public worker sick-day cash-outs

ISELIN – How much to cap the sick-day cash-outs?

That was the question legislators wrestled with during a discussion today about the controversial perk public employees receive when they retire, with some employees accruing and cashing out thousands of dollars worth of sick days over the life of their careers.

Gov. Chris Christie has derided the big payments as “boat checks,” and is calling on the Legislature to do away with the cash-outs all together.

One of the biggest abuses some lawmakers have pointed to was a Keansburg schools superintendent who in 2007 walked away with some $750,000 in unused days compensation

Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, has introduced legislation, capping it at $7,500, but Christie has not signed on to it, insisting that there should be no cash-outs.

Sarlo said it’s a reasonable compromise, adding that there’s a risk of towns having to pay overtime costs if too many employees start using up their sick days if they know they can’t be compensated for them at retirement.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean has said the Legislature needs to continue to be “aggressive” and try to eliminate the payouts altogether.

“We should be pushing for zero,” Kean said at today’s N.J. Business and Industry conference held here.

Senate President Stephen Sweeny said Sarlo’s bill is a good one. He added, though, it’s unfair that someone who didn’t use a sick day from 20 years ago would get today’s value if he or she decided to retire.

Assemblyman David Rible, (R-11), Wall, said the state should follow the State Police model on sick days, which doesn’t provide payouts but offers a generous amount of them during the life of the officer’s career.

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), Voorhees, praised Assemblywoman and district-mate Pamela Lampitt’s bill that would do away with sick-day cash-outs, but would apply the value of them toward the retiree’s health insurance costs. However, he said Christie dismissed that bill as well.

“We have to get past the bully pulpit,” he said.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak issued the following statement.

“Our goal, just as with pension and benefit and other real reforms, is to fix a serious problem for the long term, and to end this abuse of taxpayer funds once and for all,” Drewniak said.  “Anything short of that is an excuse to pay homage to special interests with taxpayer dollars. The public wants this to stop – entirely, not in part.  And the legislature’s insistence on keeping a $7,500 giveaway has a $3.25 billion price tag on it.  Who’s really looking out for the taxpayers here?”



Earlier story:

At NJBIA conference, legislative leaders back reforms Lawmakers weigh in on public worker sick-day cash-outs