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Monday, March 15, 2010

Bill Shouldn't Uproot Families

The Gloucester County Times
Should New Jersey's public employees live in the state? State Sen. Donald Norcross, D-5, of Camden, thinks so, introducing a bill last week that would require all public employees who work in new Jersey to live in New Jersey.

The residency requirement would cover state, county, and municipal employees as well as public authorities, agencies and the educational system, including state colleges.

 "If you want a paycheck from New Jersey, you should live here and pay your taxes here," says Norcross, D-5 of Camden. "It is blatantly unfair for our public employees to collect salaries and benefits from the taxpayers of New Jersey while paying taxes to another state."

Philosophically, the measure makes sense. Some municipalities and counties in New Jersey already have residency requirements.

Practically, though, Norcross' bill needs more real-world consideration. In fact, it would be a better bill if it were prospective. That is, make a move to New Jersey a condition of employment for new hires, and for current public employees who change public-sector jobs.

Under the legislation as proposed, S-1730 would give current public employees who live out of state an overly generous 2 years to establish a principal residence in New Jersey. New employees would be required to establish New Jersey residency in just four months.

Allowing the extra time for current employees to make the move is necessary because of the distressed housing market, the senator explained: "I want to do this in a way that will not create any needless hardship."

Trouble is, requiring employees to uproot spouses and settled families can be a hardship in itself. We're talking about requirements that kids change schools, sports teams, etc., and that people sell their homes just to keep jobs they already have.

What about a couple living in, say, Bucks County Pennsylvania, where one partner already has a job in Pennsylvania with a residency requirement, and the other works for the State of New Jersey? The proposed rule would mean one partner would have to quit his or her job or they'd have to live separately.

It's doubtful that making families split up is what Norcross intended. Why not "grandfather" New Jersey workers who stay in their current jobs? And, split the difference on the move-in grace period for everyone else. Make it one year, enough time to get out of a rental lease, or to sell a house.

That still leaves the issue of tax justice. Norcross is right that public employees who stream across the bridge pay significantly less in property taxes, and may pay lower income taxes.

Our state's taxpayers should be able to get some benefit from "grandfathered" interstate commuters who take a public paycheck. If it's legal, what about a non-resident surcharge on these employees' health benefit contributions, or some kind of "payment in lieu of taxes"?

State workers are already being asked to make a number of sacrifices on behalf of a distressed state budget. A forced sale of their homes should not be one of them.

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