From the Star Ledger:
Every month, dozens of jittery public workers gather before a five-member tribunal in Trenton, to be grilled on their personal lives: Divorces. Child custody issues. Family illnesses. Financial woes.
Why? To beg permission to move out of New Jersey. A state law that quietly went into effect two years ago requires all public employees to live in this state.
To get a waiver, you’ve got to ask for an exception — a process not unlike standing before the mean judge on “American Idol.”
Which leads you to wonder: Why was it that we passed this law in the first place?
The idea behind it was simple: New Jersey jobs should go to New Jersey residents. And the taxpayer dollars that pay their salaries should stay in our state.
This law, passed in 2011, was the brainchild of Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), who called it the “New Jersey First Act” — because it was all about putting “our own residents first,” he said.
Other states have similar residency rules for police officers or firefighters, so they can respond quickly to an emergency. But New Jersey was the first in the nation to enact such a broad requirement for all public employees — from state or municipal government to teachers at our public schools.
To the people at these hearings, though, it just sounds like a life sentence.
Hensley says she’s paid taxes here all her life, unlike the Pennsylvania residents who got grandfathered in. How could she have anticipated this law, or her husband’s death, when she first took her job more than a decade ago?
“I feel like I’m a prisoner of New Jersey and I never did anything wrong except being a taxpaying citizen,” she said. “Now I’m just stuck here until I retire or die, I guess.”
Siegert, who teaches language arts, took on extra work as a custodian and coach at his Franklin Borough elementary school to try to make ends meet. But his wife’s medical condition leaves them no choice but to seek help across the border, he says.
“It’s hard enough to swallow your pride to move in with family,” he told the panel. “But if I can’t do that — what are my other options?”
That’s what New York state Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and 25 of his colleagues asked Christie in June. The lawmakers sent him a letter expressing their strong opposition to New Jersey’s residency law, but so far they haven’t gotten an answer.
Along with legislators in Pennsylvania, they argue this policy hurts the regional economy and reduces the talent pool for public jobs — while at the same time leaving them little choice but to propose identical laws to protect their own constituents, whose job prospects have shrunk.
“I don’t think it’s the right policy, but if a neighboring state like New Jersey is going to do that and limit the occupations open to New York residents, then New York is going to have to follow suit,” Zebrowski said. “I think it’s going to create a race to the bottom.”