BOSTON -- An editorial in today's Newburyport Daily News knocks Beacon Hill Democrats for being unwilling to support Governor Baker's commonsense proposal to save taxpayers' money by curbing the abuse of sick leave buybacks by public employees.
State should follow local example on sick leave buyback
NEWBURYPORT DAILY NEWS
By The Editorial Board
Sick time is an important part of any benefits package, for both employees and employers.
Last year, Greg Cunha, the state inspector general, found that more than 10,400 public employees, roughly 12 percent of the state workforce, each have more than 1,000 hours of unused time. Paying out for that time will cost taxpayers about $117 million. That’s on top of the $217 million owed to the 20,000 workers who have five weeks or more of unused vacation.
“The state just can’t afford to pay out those huge sums of money,” Cunha wrote in his report to Massachusetts lawmakers last year.
At best, it costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year; at worst, it’s open to abuse.
State workers, of course, can’t be blamed for taking advantage of the program, and many have factored it into their retirement planning. It would be unfair to simply end the program. It can, however, be reformed.
So far, even modest efforts have met with indifference in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which is in thrall to the public employee unions. For the last two years, Gov. Charlie Baker has tried putting a cap on executive branch sick leave at 1,000 hours — or roughly six months. The move would save about $7.5 million a year, but hasn’t survived the budget process.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has managed to get an amendment tacked on to the Senate budget calling for a task force to investigate the problem, but there’s no guarantee it will make it through negotiations with the House. And frankly, Cunha has already done a fine job outlining the problem.
State officials — including lawmakers — would do well to follow the lead of their municipal counterparts, who have made strides in addressing the issue without alienating their workers or the unions that represent them.
Change is possible, if the state decides to follow the local example.