New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill capping at 2 percent raises for police and firefighters that mediators award when contract talks break down.
The measure, which takes effect in January, will help cash- strapped towns and cities meet a 2 percent limit on property-tax increases that Christie signed earlier this year, the governor said. Along with limiting pay increases, it requires a decision within 45 days of either party’s asking for arbitration.
“I don’t think anyone is being vilified here,” Christie, 48, said at a signing ceremony in Wayne. “What we’ve done is shine a bright light on a system that is not balanced. Police and firefighters have done very well under the current system. I don’t see anything wrong with a cap going forward.”
The new law follows the firing of 167 police officers last month in Newark, the state’s largest city, as Mayor Cory Booker copes with declining revenue caused by the worst U.S. economic slowdown since the Great Depression. Camden, ranked the nation’s second-most dangerous city by CQ Press, also plans to shed half its police officers.
Christie, a first-term Republican who took office in January, has prodded the Democratic-controlled Legislature to pass his 33-point “toolkit” to control property taxes and help municipalities meet the new limit. He said the police and fire pay caps were “the single toughest” component of that plan.
“Taxpayers and law enforcement will face far more serious issues in 2011 as layoffs continue and crime increases due to a lack of funding,” Anthony Wieners, head of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said in an e-mailed statement. “Trenton needs to stop playing the blame game in an environment where cops are being laid off daily.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released today found 61 percent of the state’s voters support the limits on raises. New Jersey homeowners paid an average property tax bill of $7,281 in 2009, which the Washington-based Tax Foundation said is the highest in the U.S.
Moody’s Investors Service downgraded more than $1.7 billion in bonds sold by 24 New Jersey towns and cities, citing reduced flexibility because of the tax cap and Christie’s decision to cut $1.2 billion in aid to schools and municipalities.
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