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Poll: Use Them or Lose Them — What’s the Best Policy for Sick Day Payouts?

Does it make sense for some public employees to get a big bonus at retirement when they cash in unused sick days and vacation time?

If every county, municipal, and school employee were to retire today, taxpayers would have to shell out $1.9 billion to compensate them for sick days, vacation time, and other leave they did not use while on the job. In some cases, particularly those of police and fire chiefs, these payments can run into the six figures and even reach $500,000.

This tab is in addition to public workers’ annual retirement benefits, and for the most part is far more generous than anything available in the private sector.

Efforts by Republican legislators to end or cap these payouts and NJ Spotlight’s calculation for the first time of the total bill have rekindled the debate on the policy of paying public workers for unused days on retirement.

What should the Legislature do?

  • Stop this practice once and for all. It’s just a big gift to keep the unions happy. Workers should get sick and vacation time, but they should not be used as a special savings plan designed to give a big payout at retirement. We already pay too much in property taxes and just can’t afford it.

  • You have to pay workers whatever they were promised, but it should end there. The Legislature should immediately pass a bill prohibiting public employees from accruing any additional days so that the total doesn’t continue to rise.

  • How about a compromise? If the governor had agreed seven years ago to restrict new accruals to a maximum of $7,500, that total tab would be lower today. Instead, long-term public workers have been able to keep banking their days, and taxpayers are on the hook for millions of additional dollars. The Legislature should start with some of the 15 bills already pending that seek to deal with the issue and find a reasonable compromise. Whatever it is, Gov. Chris Christie should sign it.

  • While the statewide number seems high, the situation is under control. Most towns and school districts have a small liability, and it will eventually decrease because the state has capped accrued leave at $15,000 for all those hired after May 2010. State workers can accrue up to $15,000 in leave, so should everyone else. As older workers retire, that number will drop.

  • Do nothing. This has always been a matter of negotiation between unions and individuals and their municipal, county, and school employers and it should stay there. If workers would rather get a smaller salary but a generous payment for unused days at retirement, so be it. Some public workers still earn less than they could get in the private sector. Local governing bodies are in the best position to decide what’s best for their workers and taxpayers.

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