If New Jersey taxpayers fund your paychecks, you ought to live in the Garden State, too.
That's the thinking behind a bill proposed in the Legislature this week, which already has drawn bipartisan support from Gov. Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), among other political leaders. It also has attracted loud criticism from public employees.
State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), the sponsor of the bill, said a residency requirement is a "fair and reasonable expectation" of employees whose salaries are paid by taxpayers.
The bill would affect teachers, firefighters, police officers, and all other employees of state, county and local governments, as well as public authorities, boards, agencies, commissions and state colleges and universities. Both full-time and part-time employees would be affected.
New employees would have four months from the start of employment to move into New Jersey, while anyone living out of state would have two and a half years after the law takes effect to comply.
"It is very simple," Norcross said. "If you want a paycheck from New Jersey taxpayers, you should have to live here, pay your taxes here and be part of your community."
Norcross, who also leads the 85,000-member South Jersey AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, said an estimated 10,000 public employees live out of state, costing the state about $22 million in income taxes.
Christie, who would need to sign the bill for it to become law, is one of its early supporters. Spokesman Michael Drewniak said the measure is "among the reforms we would like to work with the Legislature on."
Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R., Passaic) said he has signed on to be a co-prime sponsor of the bill. He said he sponsored similar legislation covering state employees eight to 10 years ago as a member of the Assembly.
"If they work for the state of New Jersey, isn't it logical to think they might want to live in the state of New Jersey, understand the problems we have?" O'Toole said. "If their employer is the state - have the common decency to live within our borders."
Sweeney has also sponsored similar bills in prior legislative sessions.
"What really gets me is when I look at the mass exodus every night out of Trenton to Pennsylvania," Sweeney said. "If it's good enough to work for the state, it should be good enough to live in the state of New Jersey," he added.
Public employee unions said that while relatively few of their members work out of state, they strongly oppose the measure for those who do.
"I think it's a ridiculous proposal," said Bob Master, regional political director for the Communication Workers of America. "It will have no meaningful impact in the long run on the state's budget problems and it will cause completely unnecessary hardship for our members."
Master said that if New Jersey's neighboring states were to adopt similar tactics, the results would not be pretty.
"It's simple-minded scapegoating and there's no economic evidence produced by the advocates of this bill of what the actual benefits are going to be," Master said.
Kathy Coulibaly, a spokewoman for the New Jersey Education Association, said her group opposes the bill because it retroactively changes the conditions under which people accepted employment.
She said the bill would also force people to move during a very difficult real estate climate.
"People choose their homes for a lot of reasons - maybe they want to be near elderly relatives, maybe they have custody agreements where they can't move out of state," Coulibaly said. "It just doesn't seem like good public policy without considering the reality of many people's lives."
Sherryl Gordon, executive director of American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees Coucnil 1 in New Jersey said the proposal would especially hurt low-wage workers.
Gordon represent members, who earn an average of $37,000 a year working in places like the state psychiatriac hospitals, developmental centers and prisons.
Neither Pennsylvania nor New York has residency requirements for most state government employees, although various cities, including Philadelphia, do.
Philadelphia's residency rule for city workers, established in 1953, has been credited with helping keep neighborhoods intact. In 2008, the City Council weakened the rule and gave new hires six months to move into the city.
The current Philadelphia police contract, handed down by independent arbitrators, will effectively eliminate the residency requirement for most cops.
Nationwide, states have widely varying policies on residency requirements for public employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some states say residency cannot be used as a factor in hiring unless an in-state and out-of-state resident are equally qualified for a job. Some states require a resident to have lived in-state for a set period of time before being hired by the state. And several require residency only for specific types of jobs, such as public works projects.
New Jersey law calls for preference to be given to state residents for employment on public works projects.
According to the state Treasury, as of fiscal year 2008, 8 percent of the state's 78,383 employees lived outside of New Jersey.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex), whose support would be needed for the bill to pass in the lower house, did not return calls for comment.