Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would have loosened limits on how much local police and firefighters can be given in annual raises Thursday, setting up a yet to be scheduled final vote in the Assembly.
In 2010, a 2 percent limit on tax levy increases was passed. Beginning in 2011, local police and fire unions were also limited to 2 percent raises when they entered into the state’s binding arbitration process – a mechanism that occurs when the union and towns can not agree on a contract. This limit was put in place so government services wouldn’t have to be cut for towns to comply with the 2 percent tax cap.
The current arbitration limit will expire on April 1 and the legislature has been scrambling to extend it in some form – Republicans want a permanent hard cap while Democrats proposed a bill with some exceptions.
Today, both the Assembly and Senate approved the Democrats’ plan before it was conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie. This plan would have increased raises to 3 percent if the union had provided the town with savings on items like health benefits. In addition, it would have allowed unions who were subject to the 2 percent cap since 2011 to be immune from the new law’s limitations – Republicans argue this would have defanged the central point of the legislation.
Before the arbitration cap was put in place, raises were often around 4.5 percent but were reduced to around 1.9 percent after the 2010 law.
“It’s a small piece of relief for us,” said Ed Donnelly, President of the New Jersey State Fireman’s Benevolent Association about the original Democratic proposal.
The exemptions in the law would have seriously weakened a bill that had helped towns keep property taxes rising more slowly without cutting services, said Bill Dressel, executive director for the League of Municipalities.
“It’s a slap in the face to the property tax payers,” said Dressel about the Democrats original bill around noon. “It’s clearly a victory for the uniformed unions.”
“They are making a mockery out of the 2 percent cap.”
Dressel just had to wait. Around 5 p.m., Christie issued a conditional veto that makes all new contracts subject to the cap and kills the potential for 3 percent raises.
“The bill’s reforms fall short of the meaningful property tax reforms that we achieved together in 2010,” said Christie in his veto statement. Some Republicans wanted the arbitration cap to be permanent but he did not veto that provision saying that a future governor might want to act differently.
The Senate passed the bill with Christie’s changes. Only one senator, Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, voted against it – she said it did not do enough for emergency officials.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, said he was willing to talk to the governor about how to move towards passage.
“The Assembly will review the conditional veto, and is committed to doing it in a timely fashion – as long as its negotiated in good faith and meets the Assembly’s commitment to fairness for everyone,” he said in a statement.