Ann Vardeman’s desk is plastered with photos of her three year-old daughter, Miri. Baby number two is due soon, but after Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have expanded New Jersey’s current Paid Family Leave Program, Vardeman will get six weeks off with the new baby, not the 12 weeks the bill would have guaranteed. She said that’s huge.
“Newborns are a lot of work,” said Vardeman, a program director with New Jersey Citizen Action. “I think after six weeks, I was physically ready to go back to work. I was healed, but I was exhausted. It’s extremely disappointing that the governor chose to veto this bill. I would’ve used the additional six weeks.”
“He completely gutted the bill,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Associate Director Dena Mottola Jabroska. “The governor’s never been a huge fan of this program. He’s never really championed it. He has neglected it for eight years.”
The bill would have expanded the family members eligible for paid leave from immediate family to include grandparents, in-laws and siblings. It also would have doubled the leave available from six to 12 weeks and would have increased the wages paid to workers on leave from 67 percent of their weekly salary up to 90 percent.
Advocates claimed it would not have required an increase in the annual $33.50 payroll tax that supports the program, but Gov. Christie challenged that in his veto message.
“Attempted to placate the numerous concerns raised about the fiscal impact of this bill by assuring that it can be done without raising the payroll tax used to support the same. However, the ‘facts’ supporting that assertion are flimsy at best and put the burden for their mistake, as usual, on the taxpayers,” said Christie.
“You know, small business runs lean and mean,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association president and CEO Michele Siekerka. “And we have to help them to stay lean and mean – and they have to be productive.”
Many small businesses applauded Christie’s conditional veto, saying they can’t afford the expanded program.
“With double the amount the leave people can take and expanding the people that they can take the leave for, we’re going to end up with a bankrupt account,” said Siekerka. “That means we’re going to have to go back and find a new way to fund that, either an increase on the payroll tax on the employee, or it’s going to mean looking to the employer to step in.”
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association also lobbied against a provision requiring companies with 20 or more staffers to protect and guarantee jobs of workers who took paid family leave. The current program affects companies with 50 employees.
“That disruption in the workforce, that constant movement in a small company, that is something small business just can’t shoulder,” said Siekerka.
Advocates say companies can adjust because the program pays the salaries of workers out on leave.
“I actually think this is a huge boost for small businesses,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective Vice President Jon Whiten. “Most people shift extra work to existing employees, maybe pay them a little extra to pick up the slack or they hire temporary workers.”
“If they can give their employee the leave they need, when they need it, and then they can come back, and they’re a good employee and they’re trained well and they don’t have to spend money to start all over with a new employee, that’s a benefit to them,” said Jabroska.
Since Christie will not approve the expansion, the bill’s proponents want to make it an issue in the race to replace him in the State House and push candidates to take a position on the bill. They hope the next governor will sign it.