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Sweeney Says Impasse Over Sick Days Costing Towns ‘Millions’

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s refusal to compromise on a bill that would cap payouts for government workers’ unused sick time has cost towns millions of dollars, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said.

Christie, a first-term Republican, vetoed a Democrat-sponsored bill last December that would have capped the payments at $15,000. The governor, 49, said yesterday he won’t sign the measure unless it ends the payouts.

A version with a $7,500 limit would cost taxpayers $3.25 billion if all current state and local employees retired, Christie has said. Amid the impasse, towns’ liabilities for unused sick and vacation days continue to accrue, Sweeney said today at a public policy forum in Iselin.

“I’m sure we could find a compromise, but we should not have been stalled this whole time until we find it,” Sweeney said. “He could have stopped the bleeding back when we gave him the bill, which would have saved millions of dollars.”

Sweeney, 52, New Jersey’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, said he isn’t sure the issue will be resolved in the legislative session that ends Jan. 9. A $7,500 cap is “absolutely reasonable,” said Sweeney, of West Deptford.

Property Taxes

Christie has said ending sick-leave payouts is necessary to help mayors stay within a 2 percent threshold he placed on annual growth of New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

“Three-and-a-quarter billion dollars is not a small amount of money and that doesn’t represent a compromise,” Christie said yesterday in a Trenton news conference. “Zero should be zero and I don’t see myself compromising.”

Some of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities, including the two most-populous, Newark and Jersey City, were forced to borrow to pay workers $43 million last year for unused sick and vacation time. The governor said last week that more than 230 mayors, Republicans and Democrats, back his proposal to end the payouts.

“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,” Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, said in an e-mail. “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.”

Sweeney, an ironworkers union official who has been in county government for 14 years, said he supports Christie’s “use it or lose it” position on sick leave. A full ban on cashing in unused days may lead to fraud as workers seek to “burn off” the time each year, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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