New Jersey towns and counties risk service cuts if the Democrat-led state Assembly fails to renew a 2 percent cap on negotiated salary awards to unionized police and firefighters, Governor Chris Christie said.
Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey said in a statement that Christie, a 51-year-old Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate, was resorting to “reprehensible” fear tactics and trying to mislead the public and lawmakers.
The limit on contractual obligations, part of Christie’s effort to control the highest property taxes in the U.S., lapsed April 1. Now, arbitrators who negotiate contracts have no limits on increases in public-safety worker pay, which in some towns makes up the largest share of budgeted expenses.
“You need to put a cap on those things that drive the levy the most, and that is the expense of employees in the public sector,” said Christie, flanked by about 100 mayors and other local officials and lawmakers who came to Trenton to show their support for the bill.
“We will go back to the bad old days of 70 percent property-tax increases in 10 years, or of such significant cuts to services that the quality of life in the towns and counties will be unrecognizable,” Christie said.
The Assembly speaker, Vincent Prieto, a Democrat from Secaucus, must agree to awards no higher than 2 percent, as the Senate did last month, he said.
Prieto, in an e-mailed statement, criticized Christie and local leaders who “have chosen to hold rallies rather than sit down and negotiate with the Assembly to resolve this matter.” The lower house, he said, was committed to protecting taxpayers and treating police and firefighters fairly.
The statement on behalf of the public-safety workers was signed by Dominick Marino, president of the firefighters association, and Edward R. Brannigan, president of the police union.
Christie “wants everyone to believe that there are no local municipal leaders capable of negotiating their own contracts with their employees,” the signers wrote. The unions stand behind Prieto, it said.
The Senate and Assembly on March 27 approved a bill that would raise the limit to 3 percent, so long as workers agree to reduce staffs and pay more for health care. Christie returned the legislation with a conditional veto, and the Senate voted to remove the 3 percent provision. The Assembly adjourned without voting.