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NJ bill to renew key property tax law is on fast track to Christie's desk
June 16, 2014
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An expired law that was credited with helping stem the growth of property taxes is on the fast track back into the books.
Over the objections of police and firefighter unions, the state Assembly today voted 78-0 to approve a measure that restores a 2 percent annual limit on the amount third-party arbitrators can award police and firefighters in raises and other forms of compensation.
“This is a bill that was deeply necessary in order to move forward with controlling the ever-increasing burden of property taxes in the State of New Jersey, and make sure we treat with respect the people who put themselves in harm's way,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), a sponsor.
The state Senate plans to vote on the measure on Thursday.
Arbitrators step in to make decisions when police and firefighter unions are deadlocked with municipalities or counties on their contracts. Beginning in 2011, the arbitrators were limited to awarding 2 percent annual raises.
But the law expired on April 1 after Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Gov. Chris Christie failed to reach an agreement on extending it.
Mayors said the law was an important tool to help them meet the state’s 2 percent cap on local spending. Police and firefighter unions said it unfairly hobbled them in negotiations.
The bill largely resembles the expired law, with one significant change: The 2 percent annual raises would be a little bigger because they would be compounded over the length of the union’s contract, rather than being based only on the salary at the first year of the contract. So, for instance, a firefighter making $100,000 a year who is awarded a 2 percent annual pay raise would make $108,000 by the contract’s final year under the old system. Under the new system, he or she would make $108,242.
Unions are not happy with the compromise.
Keith Dunn, executive vice president of the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association, said it’s a “myth” that arbitration led to tax increases – even though many mayors credit it with helping them stay below a 2 percent spending limit aimed at curbing property taxes.
“There has not been a shred of data to show that this cap has caused anyone's taxes to go down or that any arbitration has led to taxes going up,” Dunn said. “While the bill up today provides a little more financial flexibility, the PBA believes it is an unnecessary interference in the fair and open collective bargaining process. The cap should be permitted to expire to allow that process to continue without political interference from Trenton."
Dominick Marino, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, was harsher in his condemnation of the deal when it was announced Friday, saying his union was “"misled and betrayed.”
But Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), who was the lead Republican pushing to renew the law, called it “as generous as we can be while still guarding the taxpayers’ best interests.”
“It’s not often enough that any one of us in this chamber gets to stand up and say this is how government ought to work, but this is one of those instances,” O’Scanlon said.
On the other side, organizations that represent elected officials in towns and counties are happy with the compromise. In a memo to state lawmakers, the New Jersey Association of Counties called it “fair and equitable.”
Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said he's "delighted."
"This is the first step. On Thursday we understand the Senate will pass this and we expect the governor to sign it shortly," Dressel said. "This really puts to bed a major issue that has been concerning mayors and elected officials up and down the state."