Governor Chris Christie signed a conditional veto of an ineffective civil service "reform" bill advanced by the legislature, citing its failure to include the critically needed opt-out and furlough options for municipalities. The bill seeks to pacify special interests by leaving out the most effective provisions and adding others that, by omission or inclusion, completely fail to provide real reform to help control workforce costs and property taxes.
"This bill represents tepid, ineffective and meaningless change," the Governor said in his veto message on the bill, A-3590. "I proposed real reform which would give local officials another tool to constrain property taxes. The legislature has sent me special interest approved ‘reform’ that will do nothing to constrain property taxes. The time for real reform of civil service is overdue. I cannot and will not sign this bill in this form."
In May last year, Governor Christie proposed a comprehensive set of proposals – the property tax reform tool kit – to empower local governments to control their biggest cost drivers and contributors to property tax increases. Among the most important of those recommendations was reform of New Jersey’s antiquated civil service system. Interestingly, the shared services proposals touted in the legislature as a panacea for local government costs control is hamstrung by the bill in its current form – and its lack of a civil service opt-out provision.
As the Governor noted in his veto message, even the legislature’s much-touted Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC), in a December letter to the Governor and legislature, determined that civil service seniority-protection rules are among the most significant barriers to shared services between municipalities.
Further buckling to special interests, the bill fails to adequately address temporary layoffs – furloughs – as a tool available for municipalities to avoid significant permanent layoffs. The bill suggests that it permits negotiated furloughs – a right already permitted under the Employer-Employee Relations Act.
"What local governments need, however, is the ability to unilaterally institute temporary layoffs so that more senior union representatives are not empowered to force permanent layoffs by failing to agree to a temporary layoff plan," the Governor noted in his conditional veto, which authorized local officials to institute furloughs in a fair and equitable manner.
The bill in its current form also adds bureaucracy with the creation of a task force to abolish civil service titles and revise certain practices of the state Civil Service Commission – a task the Commission is already authorized to do and which it is currently engaged in, resulting in the elimination of 1,000 civil service titles since the Governor took office. Creation of the task force will merely serve to slow down and hinder the Commission’s ongoing efforts, which are already authorized by law.
While the bill includes some useful provisions – such as extending the working test period, providing for 9-month seasonal appointments and making terminal leave payments optional under certain circumstances – the bill fails to deliver the fundamental civil service reform provided in the Governor’s tool kit of reforms.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem) said that the Governor’s action today is disappointing.
“The Legislature made clear that we would be willing partners on this issue and we did our part to move forward on civil service reform,” Sweeney said. “This was legislation that would continue to safeguard against nepotism and political corruption while modernizing and streamlining the civil service system. It would have implemented policies into the public sector that have been effective in the private sector and it was supported by such groups as the New Jersey Association of Counties,”