From the Star Ledger:
They receive paid days off for Christmas shopping, donating blood and weddings. And when these public employees retire, they can cash in tens of thousands of dollars worth of unused sick time and vacation days.
Extensive taxpayer-funded benefits for some local government employees are straining the budgets of New Jersey municipalities, according to a report the State Commission of Investigation released today.
Despite a recession that has depleted tax revenue and forced layoffs, the report says, municipalities continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on big payouts to retiring workers.
“The gravy train continues to roll without impediment for select groups of employees on the public payroll,” it reads. “Startling amounts of taxpayer-funded booty continue to be dispensed across New Jersey without regard for the common good.”
The SCI, which examines crime and corruption and reports to the Legislature, said it discovered $39 million in extravagant payouts after reviewing 75 towns, counties and local authorities. State employees can receive a maximum of $15,000 for unused sick time, but such limits aren’t standard at the local level.
The SCI report is a black eye for municipalities who have clamored for more state assistance to help cope with the recession. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage over the expensive perks.
“It shocks the conscience,” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), who pledged legislation to cap severance payments. “The taxpayers have every right to be offended.”
Montclair State University Brigid Harrison expects political power struggles if the state cracks down on employee benefits at the local level.
“Counties are often political fiefdoms,” she said. “County freeholders or executive boards get to pad the ranks of public employees with political supporters.”