Paying workers for unused sick days was never a good idea, but hundreds of New Jersey towns and school boards gave union and non-union workers that bonus years ago and didn't have the fortitude to negotiate it away when times got tough.

Fortunately, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Gov. Christie seem close to ending the ill-advised, multimillion-dollar sick-time payouts to government employees, which have become a drain on many local budgets.

With property taxes ranking high on the list of town residents' wallet aches - even after a 2 percent cap was imposed on municipal spending increases - this idea is well timed.

So is growing support for a tougher approach on consolidating municipal services. Trenton appears to be finally showing that it is tired of waiting around for towns and school boards to streamline government operations.

Among the towns' inefficiencies are their cash sick-time payments, which allow some municipal workers, often executives, to get six-figure settlements when they retire.

Sweeney would end the practice outright for new employees and freeze the current dollar value of accrued sick time for current workers. In the future, employees could save unused sick days to be used presumably for a cataclysmic illness, but that would not have a dollar value.

Wisely, this proposal would prevent all governments, including the state, from letting employees turn unused sick days into cash in the future.

Christie should take the deal and end the stalemate over this costly benefit with one caveat: The governor and Legislature should recognize the origins of the bonuses. They were created in employment contracts in which the employees gave up wages or other forms of compensation. Workers should receive something in return for giving up the sick-pay payouts.

The Communications Workers of America is negotiating with Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D., Camden) to give employees some credit from the loss of the sick-pay bonus that could be used for postretirement medical expenses. However, she doesn't want to talk about it until negotiations are over.

Depending on the cost, that seems like a good way to resolve this issue by recognizing government workers' sacrifices, especially in light of last year's retirement-benefit cuts.