NJ Fiscal Folly

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Practical Versus The Perfect

When you step back and take an overview of NJ's budget, it's obvious that many of the necessary structural changes will not occur quickly (if ever). This raises the question of what is actually practical in the short term.

Over at New Jersey For Change, Chanice raises the perennial topic of public employees who "bank" unused vacations and sick days, for eventual payoff upon retirement. It seems to me that this issue falls into a category of "corrupt and corrosive practices" that could in fact be fixed this year.

Such practices not necessarily the most costly activities, but they are highly visible, and demonstrate contempt for all NJ taxpayers. The continual disclosure of these activities is a constant reminder of how too many NJ politicians and public employees place self-interest above public responsibilities. These practices undermine government legitimacy and divert attention and resources from more critical issues.

Accordingly, here is my short list of "corrupt and corrosive practices" that should be ended, and can be ended, in 2006:

(1) The practice of "banking" unused vacations and sick days should be legally terminated for all state and local government jobs. Failing that, the payouts should be capped at some minimal level (eg, not more than 10 days equivalent).

(2) The practice of holding multiple, paying state and local government jobs should be legally terminated or severely limited. (If the practice is allowed to continue, financial disclosure requirements should be widespread, detailed, timely, and consolidated into a single, statewide database.) Aside from potential conflicts of interest, these multiple job arrangements simply confirm the image of political gluttony and privilege that NJ taxpayers find so offensive.

(3) Criminal penalties for corruption and fraud need to be toughened up and enforced. To be blunt, we need to send more white collar criminals to jail. At present, prosecution is infrequent, convictions are few, and penalties are light or nonexistent. The rewards for corruption and fraud currently exceed the risks. White collar crime will only decrease if prison is a credible threat.

(4) Certain pension system abuses should be eliminated, such as using multiple jobs to boost pension benefits, giving pension credits for minimal payment jobs, including professional service contractors and vendors in the system, and continuing pension eligibility for convicted officials.

This is a short list, and I welcome any additions. My criteria were fairly simple. First, whenever I read about one of these activities I get pissed. Not the mature approach, I know, but an honest reaction, probably shared by many other NJ residents. Second, these practices can be fixed this year. These are not multi-year projects. The problems are well defined and the solutions are straightforward.

If Gov Corzine and the NJ Legislature want to increase their credibility on the topics of financial management and integrity, how about starting here. There is a symbolic value in resolving these issues that far exceeds the financial dimension.


At 12:44 PM, Blogger WjcW said...

Don't hold your breath. Look at pay to play. It's been 2 1/2 years and 3 governors and still nothing. I will predict the current governor will be too busy to address that until at least 2007. (meanwhile I believe all the necessary bills have been written and rejected by the leadership for the past 2 1/2 years)
I would like nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised by Mr. Corzine, but I now have my doubts, I thought the budget with the 'structural increases' may be necessary, but I still say he's treating the symptoms and not the disease. I would like him to come out and get any one of these simpler reforms done. I would add to your list that something has to be done to tie employee contributions to the rising cost of healthcare. The collective bargaining agreements cannot lock in the the healthcare contributions because the healthcare costs are not locking. In my little 25 person company our costs go up as much as 30% annually. The state must ask for adjustable contributions based on the yearly increases of healthcare costs.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Enlighten said...

The public emplyee union contracts more than likely require the payment for unused sick and vacation time. That's one of the reasons it was important for taxpayers of New Jersey not to elect someone as Governor who is in bed with the unions.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger PN said...

Healthcare costs are a national problem, and I don't really know where to begin. Nobody has figured out how to "ration" healthcare in a "fair" way. My wife and I pay for an "individual health plan" for our family, and it costs a fortune.

Regarding unused sick days and vacation days, many of the most blatant offenders are not union members. Why don't we start with these people, and then work our way through the list.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vacation time cannot be "banked" - you cannot carry more than 1 year's vacation time earned into the next year. As for sick? It's frowned upon to take it. It is my understanding that you would only get paid for 1/2 the sick time you have. The biggest abuse and waste in the State Government as you pointed out are the double dippers. Your assemblymen and senators who work part time for the government and have lucrative "jobs" that they go to and collect income and benefits from both and as near as I can tell they spend little time at their "part time" government jobs.


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