The Star-Ledger

Scare Talk On Paid Leave

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Star-Ledger Editorial Board

Spring has arrived, but Scrooge is still firmly ensconced in Trenton. Scrooge would be the state Chamber of Commerce and other staunch opponents of paid family leave. A sensible, compassionate paid family leave bill has, finally, passed the Legislature and Gov. Jon Corzine promises to sign it shortly. Yet the critics will not let up on their drumbeat of doom.

Paid family leave will be the death of small business, the naysayers insist; it will drive more businesses out of the state; it will never be able to support itself on the 64 cents or so to be deducted from employees' paychecks each week. The way the Chamber and others yelp, you would think Lenin's embalmed body had been transferred to the Statehouse dome, followed by an order for mandatory Communist Party membership for all.

Please. Allowing a worker up to six weeks' paid time off to care for an infant, seriously ill child or parent will make life easier for residents who find themselves in a jam and will make New Jersey a better place to live.

Firms with fewer than 50 employees don't have to hold a leave-taking employee's job for him and cannot be sued for hiring a replacement. Workers can be required to use two weeks of vacation, sick or personal days before being eligible. And employers aren't paying for paid family leave. Workers are.

Sure, a few people will always try to game the system. But we doubt scads of workers will look at family leave as a tempting scam for staying home and watching TV or jetting off to sightsee in Europe. Not when the "pay" is two-thirds of salary, with a maximum of $524 a week. At that level, it's hard in New Jersey to keep food in the cupboard and the property taxes paid.

The same arguments now being marshaled against paid family leave were used to decry unpaid family leave more than a decade ago. That program hasn't hamstrung employers any more than the 40-hour workweek, which business also saw as the first step to economic ruin.

The critics are correct, however, about the need for the state to carefully monitor paid family leave finances. The Legislature estimates revenues from employee payroll deductions will handily outstrip payouts for the program in 2009, leaving a $15.7 million balance. But in future years, revenues and payouts are forecast to be much closer.

That makes it essential for lawmakers and state officials to keep their mitts off the family leave fund's accumulated balance. The program must be self-supporting.

Paid family leave is a civilized way to help people cope with hard personal times. Ultimately, that is good for everyone – employees and employers.

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