NJ Turnpike Authority curbs employee perks

October 27, 2010 4:12:44 AM PDT
More than 1,900 New Jersey highway employees will no longer get a free ride to work.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority board on Tuesday voted to eliminate free E-ZPass accounts that cover rides for turnpike and Garden State Parkway employees to and from their jobs.

The board also voted to stop some nonunion employees from cashing out unused sick and vacation time at the end of each year.

Typically, that's done at retirement. The practice has cost the authority $3.8 million a year.

The votes come one week after the state comptroller found the authority paid its employees $30 million in unjustified bonuses and squandered millions more on health insurance while tolls increased.

Meanwhile, Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, who is also chairman of the state Turnpike Authority, said the agency will start soliciting bids in December for private operators to take over highway-toll collections.

The proposal would replace about 700 unionized toll collectors on the 148-mile New Jersey Turnpike. A report issued in July by a panel studying the potential savings of privatization estimated that as much as $43 million a year could be saved by using private toll collectors.

Other tasks, such as guardrail repair and highway maintenance, are also being considered for privatization, Simpson said Tuesday.

Union leaders have been critical of such efforts, warning that privatization presents the opportunity for jobs to be awarded on no-bid contracts to the politically connected.

Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said Simpson's proposed plan to privatize toll collections should only be considered after safeguards have been put into place to ensure "transparency, oversight, efficiency and significant savings to taxpayers."