In an annual “tradition,” Union City’s municipal employees get a paid day of leave this month to go Christmas shopping. But that’s nothing compared to extravagant payouts, bonuses, and other “taxpayer-funded booty” that hundreds of local N.J. governments dispense to public employees like candy, a state investigative agency reports.ILLUSTRATION: Jerry DeMarco for CLIFFVIEW PILOT
New Jersey taxpayers could save tens of millions of dollars if the practices were stopped now, the State Commission of Investigation concludes, in a new report released today entitled “The Beat Goes On.”
It may as well be called “The Beating….”
The reports cites instances of public employees getting bonuses for working on a birthday or for hving perfect attendance, as well as days off for moving.
In Morris County’s Rockaway Township, the SCI says, five municipal employees received nearly $780,000 for cashing in unused holidays and other leave, despite increased property taxes and budget cuts that eliminated a police
In Camden, easily the state’s worst city, 20 municipal workers shared more than $2.3 million in cash – an average of $115,000 each — then they left their jobs, according to the report.
“At a time of economic distress unprecedented since the Great Depression — with government budgets depleted and austerity the theme of the day even in the private sector — the gravy train continues to roll without impediment for select groups of employees on the public payroll,” the report says.
“It simply is unacceptable and intolerable for taxpayers to continue to be burdened by these sorts of gold-plated, sky’s-the-limit benefit packages for active and retiring public workers – especially when the cost of such arrangements can seriously erode local budgets, drive up property taxes and actually coincide with the layoffs of essential personnel, including police officers and firefighters.”
Since the early 1990s, the SCI has investigated and identified such practices as an advocate for taxpayers.
Given the economic climate, and the financial crisis New Jersey finds itself in, this report may be the most significant of all.
The SCO urges:
- Statewide uniform caps on the awarding, accrual and cashing in at retirement of unused accumulated employee sick, vacation and other leave;
- A blanket ban on the cashing in of unused leave on a yearly basis while actively employed;
- Elimination of “terminal leave,” which enables public employees to stay on the payroll at full salary and benefits without showing up for work for weeks and months leading to retirement;
- Strict regulation and control of severance, bonuses, stipends and related payouts;
- Restrictions on the allocation and use of compensatory time;
- Elimination of all forms of non-traditional leave, such as paid days off for shopping, weddings and other personal business;
- Requiring local government employees to join state government employees in contributing at least 1.5 percent of their annual pay to the cost of health insurance;
- Steps to ensure greater public oversight, transparency and accountability.
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The report, “The Beat Goes On,” can be found at: www.state.nj.us/sci .
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