(Bloomberg News) Raymond Carnevale, former finance chief in Hackensack, New Jersey, didn't wait for Governor Chris Christie to end payouts for unused sick time and vacation. He cashed in 402 accrued days for $267,573 and retired last May with an annual pension of $68,345.
"To say it's getting out while the getting's good is too harsh: it's more like getting out while it's safe," Carnevale, 64, who spent 24 years on Hackensack's payroll and 41 total in municipal government, said in an interview.
Hackensack, a city of about 43,000 people seven miles (11 kilometers) west of New York City, paid $4.6 million of sick and vacation time to 36 retiring workers including Carnevale this budget year. Eight older workers not subject to a city cap on the payments received checks exceeding $200,000. The rush to retire is attributable to Christie's proposed clampdown on workers' benefits, City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono said.
New Jersey municipalities including Hackensack and the two most populous, Newark and Jersey City, had to borrow to make the sick-leave payments after cutting jobs to balance their budgets. The higher costs are swamping local governments from New Jersey to California as states grapple with pension-funding deficits of as much as $479.5 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In the past year, New Jersey communities from Newark to Camden paid workers at least $43 million for unused sick and vacation time. Statewide, 428 municipalities face liabilities of more than $825 million for accumulated sick and vacation days, which would cost an additional $250 for every property taxpayer in the state, according to Christie's office.
'Only in Government'
Christie, a first-term Republican, wants to end the payouts, while Democrats, who control the Legislature, seek to cap them. The governor's proposal would bar workers from accumulating additional sick and vacation days, and force current employees to use banked days for sick time or vacation. In December, he vetoed Democratic legislation capping the payments for all workers at $15,000.
"There's no way to justify paying cash to people for not being sick," Christie, 48, said at a May 18 town-hall meeting in Monroe Township. "Only in government would we do something like this."
Christie calls the payments "boat checks" to explain where some of the money may be going. The $43 million in payouts included $306,000 paid to the West New York mayor's chief of staff and $80,000 to the Somerville school superintendent, according to a list from Christie's office. Camden, one of the nation's poorest cities, paid out $3.5 million after eliminating 25 percent of its workforce.