TRENTON – A Republican state senator has submitted legislation to penalize government officials for failing to follow a law that makes transparent public employment contracts and interest arbitration awards.
“Localities across the state have violated this 44-year-old law by failing to file for public disclosure all employment contracts with the state Public Employment Relations Commission,” said state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth.) “Some entities haven’t submitted public employment contracts to PERC in decades, primarily because there is no penalty provision.”
New Jersey Press Media reported last month that many local employment contracts — mostly from the past few years — are missing from PERC’s website. Current law requires localities to submit to PERC all public contracts, so PERC can meet its requirement to publish online all collective negotiations agreements and interest arbitration awards.
“Officials try to get away with hiding lavish contract benefits they have afforded to public employee unions or they simply don’t pay attention to the law, because it bears no consequences,” Beck said. “Either way, governments have an obligation to show taxpayers know how their money is being spent.”
Beck’s bill establishes that public employers in New Jersey, including counties, municipalities and school districts file all negotiated public employment agreements with PERC within 15 days of execution. Custodians of contracts who fail to file contracts in time will be liable for a fine up to $1,000 (an amount consistent with New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act). This legislation also mandates that all contracts be posted on PERC’s website, www.perc.state.nj.us/publicsectorcontracts.nsf, on a permanent basis.
Earlier this year, the State Commission of Investigation released a report detailing $30 million in tax dollars in a five-year period wasted on salaries, medical benefits, transportation and equipment for public-sector labor representatives on paid release to conduct union business.
“What’s also troubling is the SCI’s account of how taxpayers are so in the dark about the true scope of paid union leave, including some cases where agreements are authorized by shady contract sidebars,” Beck noted. “This bill covers sidebars among any negotiated agreement, contract and interest arbitration award.”
The SCI reported, for example, that Camden taxpayers paid police and fire officials a combined $2.3 million in salaries and medical benefits over a five-year period to conduct full-time union business, as provided within agreements. In another example cited by the senator, Elizabeth taxpayers paid $540,000 in a five-year period to a school district employee on full-time union leave, along with a $1,000 annual attendance bonus for lack of absence between 2008 and 2011.
“This enforcement and transparency measure is essential to ensuring public contract terms are reasonable, which in turn controls government spending and taxes,” Beck concluded. “Otherwise, we can expect to continue bearing the burden of the nation’s highest property taxes and having to stomach details of abuse uncovered by state investigators and journalists. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
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