FAIRFIELD, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie is trying to build pressure on lawmakers to re-adopt a cap on raises for police and firefighters that arbitrators can award.
A 2 percent limit expired last week and Christie and the state Assembly are at loggerheads over how to replace it. Christie took his position to the public Wednesday in a town hall meeting in Fairfield.
Last month, the Democrat-controlled Legislature sent the Republican governor a bill that would have allowed 3 percent raises in cases where the local governments had saved money through layoffs or by making the emergency workers pay more for pension or insurance costs. The bill also would have exempted bargaining units that had already negotiated raises of less than 2 percent
Christie promptly issued a conditional veto striking both those measures, as well as one to change the way arbitrators are chosen. While the Senate quickly agreed with his more restrictive limit, the Assembly has not brought it up for a vote.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says Christie's solution would hurt first responders. "I continue to work toward a compromise that will protect taxpayers and municipalities while also being fair to the police and firefighters who sacrifice so much to protect our safety," he said in a statement Wednesday. "That's a fair balance everyone should support."
Christie said the cap is essential to keeping property taxes from rising fast. He noted that property taxes have risen by less than 2 percent annually the last few years. He did not note, though, that many homeowners have seen their bills rise more than that compared with 2008 because Christie has not restored cuts to a tax rebate program that predecessor Jon Corzine made at the height of the Great Recession.
"I would like to see us push that train backward and work on actually lowering property taxes," Christie said. "But we took a train that was going 100 mph and slowed it down to about 20."
The governor has used town hall meetings, which are part talk show and part infomercial, to promote his position with mixed success. He's held 118 of them in a little over four years, including several since the political retribution scandal over lane closures near the George Washington Bridge last year became a major distraction for his administration. On Wednesday, he had only one question about that issue.
He hammered at the idea of the property tax growth cap at meetings when he first took office, and lawmakers eventually agreed to a 2 percent limit. He has not had success when he asked people who attended the meetings later to press lawmakers for tax cuts.