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New Jersey spent more than $3 million this fiscal year on clothing allowances for white-collar workers who aren't required to wear uniforms, according to a new report from the state comptroller.
Under collective bargaining agreements, New Jersey provides an annual clothing allowance for uniforms to certain employees of $700 a year for full-time workers and $350 for part-time workers. The allowance is a flat amount included in payroll checks and doesn't require that employees provide a receipt.
Overall, the state spends more than $22 million a year on clothing allowances, with more than 20 percent going to white-collar workers, such as day care counselors, computer technicians and teaching assistants. About half of them don't wear uniforms, the report said.
"It's absurd," said state comptroller Matthew Boxer. "The state spends millions of dollars every year to cover the cost of uniforms for state employees who don't actually wear uniforms."
The report said that interviews with administrators at five different New Jersey state departments showed allowances were provided to department employees who are not required to wear uniforms or special clothing.
In one example, 888 white-collar Transportation Department employees received the allowances in the 2011 fiscal year, yet only 49 were required to wear uniforms.
Boxer's office has recommended that the state eliminate the clothing payments for employees who are not required to wear uniforms or other identifiable clothing, but did not recommend whether that be done through legislation or collective bargaining.
Hetty Rosenstein, the state director for the Communications Workers of America — the largest public workers union — called the report inaccurate and misleading.
According to Boxer's office, New Jersey's clothing allowance is far more generous than other states. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Connecticut and California don't provide clothing allowances greater than $175, according to collective bargaining agreements, and California will reimburse its employees up to $450 a year if the employee shows a receipt.
Boxer's office said the investigation was the result of an anonymous call made to a tip line.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said a change was needed.
Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Westfield, called the allowances a "back-door salary increase" for some state workers. Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said he would introduce legislation to eliminate the allowance for all public employees who are not required to wear uniforms or other special clothing.
"We've heard a lot of terrible instances of taxpayer money being wasted, but this may top them all," Moriarty said, D-Turnersville. "It has to stop."
GOP Gov. Chris Christie used the report as another opportunity to attack existing contracts the state has with public worker unions. He is currently in negotiations with public worker unions over a new contract. The current contract expires at the end of June.
"This whole collective bargaining stuff has been such a great education for me," Christie said Wednesday. "You should see all the crap they've got in there. It's unbelievable."