Gov. Chris Christie urged the Legislature on Thursday to pass his plan to eliminate vacation and sick time payouts for retiring public employees.
Joined by Wyckoff Mayor Kevin Rooney and other Bergen County 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. Bergen County alone , and the county's budget puts the cost at $54.2 million.
“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.
Mayor Rooney couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
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.
Christie called the reform a “common sense” measure and stressed the bipartisan support of 234 mayors across the state.