Christie Now Has Final Say On Back Pay For State Workers Furloughed In Shutdown

TRENTON -- The state Assembly returned from its summer break Monday to pass a bill reimbursing state workers for pay lost during the three-day July government shutdown.

The state Senate has already approved the bill (S3422), which Gov. Chris Christie has said he will sign.

Between 30,000 and 35,000 state employees deemed nonessential to government operations lost one to three days of work, depending on their work site, as a budget impasse threw the state into a government shutdown.

State recreation sites as parks and beaches were closed on July 1 and reopened on July 4. Motor vehicle offices were closed for two days and state courthouses for one as the shutdown stretched into the workweek.

Essential operations, such as New Jersey State Police, prisons and the state lottery were kept open.

The measure passed the Assembly 67-0. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) said he didn't know the cost of providing back pay but noted the salaries were already included in the budget for the current fiscal year.

Christie and Prieto feuded during budget negotiations over a bill to restructure the state's largest health insurer. And they continued to quarrel over retroactive pay.

Prieto urged Christie to order the back pay through his executive authority, but the governor's office called Prieto's demand "perplexing", saying legally it must come through the Legislature.

The speaker said he takes the governor "at his word" that he will sign it promptly.

"This was an exercise today, in my opinion still. Because it was in the budget, so it's not that it's something we added to the budget today," Prieto said. "But listen, whatever it takes to get those workers paid. We were able to gather up enough members here today to get it done."

Prieto said he hopes Christie signs the bill in time to include the retroactive pay in workers' next paycheck.

A spokesman for the governor, Brian Murray, said in a statement earlier this month that "the governor believes that the fault for the government shutdown has never been with the rank and file state workers. 

Bill sponsors said many state workers could not afford the days of lost pay.

"Missing even one day's pay can have huge consequences for many state workers, affecting their ability to pay the mortgage, rent or childcare," Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer) said.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, thanked lawmakers Monday for "making sure our members, who were locked out during the shutdown, are paid."

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