As reported by, top Democratic lawmakers are rushing to extend the cap on police and firefighter pay raises that some say has helped keep property tax bills in check. But local officials say the bill expected to be voted on today in both the Assembly and State Senate includes too many loopholes to be effective.
Since 2011, raises for local police and firefighters have been limited to 2 percent if contract disputes were settled, as many are, through the State’s binding arbitration process. Statewide, the average property tax bill rose to a record $7,988 in 2013, but that rate of growth has slowed while this cap and another that limits overall increases in the local tax have been in place.
The salary cap expires on Tuesday, a deadline written into the original law as a compromise between the Democrats who control the Legislature and Governor Christie, a Republican. Before the cap was in place, unions were often given raises of around 4.5 percent. That figure is now 1.9 percent after the cap, according to a recent report issued by a task force set up to study the cap’s effectiveness.
The unions that represent police officers and firefighters working for New Jersey municipalities and counties say the cap has been too restrictive and has taken too much bargaining power away from their members, who by law aren’t allowed to go on strike. “The bill contains critical provisions that ensure that a collective bargaining unit can only be exposed to the arbitration cap law once,” the New Jersey State Policemen’s Association said in a statement.
The Democrats’ bill would extend the 2 percent cap until December 30, 2017. But it carries a key provision in the original bill that permitted governments to cap raises only once. The original bill, however, covered a period of just over three years, roughly the duration of most of the union contracts. The new bill would permit arbitrators to award raises of up to 3 percent annually if the unions agree to pay more for benefits or to cuts in the number of jobs. The measure would also change the process through which arbitrators are selected, and it would give the arbitrators themselves a pay raise.
Democratic legislative leaders say their bill strikes the right balance between the concern of the taxpayers and the unions. Republicans, meanwhile, have their own bill to extend the cap permanently. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said the cap on arbitration awards can’t be lifted while the broader limit on property tax increases is still in place. The Policemen’s Benevolent Association, meanwhile, said the key to the bill is not making the cap permanent. “The bill’s rejecting a permanent cap and providing more financial room for consideration are important improvements,” the organization said in its statement.
Make sure to check this blog periodically to ascertain the updates on this bill and the Legislature’s vote regarding the same.