Trenton, N. J. (AP) - New Jersey's Democratic legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to cap the salary and benefits awards that police and firefighters can win in contract arbitration, but the Republican governor who proposed the reform wasn't satisfied.
The plan announced Tuesday would impose a cap at 2 percent for three years, and it would be evaluated after that. Arbitration reform was hailed as a major cost-saver for towns required to keep cost increases to within 2 percent come Jan. 1. Collective bargaining would not be affected.
"What New Jersey taxpayers want and need is reform that both controls property taxes and treats fairly the brave men and women who protect our safety and our lives," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said in announcing the agreement, which has been endorsed by mayors.
Gov. Chris Christie was dismissive of the proposal, in part because it wasn't accompanied by an actual bill.
"This extensive plan is a two-page press release with bullet points," Christie said at a news conference.
"I suspect the reason why they're not giving you the details is because this proposal is probably the same kind of cap that the Democrats passed when Jon Corzine was here," he said, referring to his predecessor, "full of holes like a piece of Swiss cheese that will allow the special interests to continue to get more and more money out of the taxpayers."
Some of Christie's own reforms were announced as proposals before they were drafted as bills for the Legislature to consider.
In addition to the cap on arbitration awards, the proposal changes the arbitrator selection process to ensure greater impartiality and speeds up the appeal process.
Police Benevolent Association President Tony Wieners, who testified against arbitration reform during legislative hearings, said the proposal is a fair compromise that protects taxpayers while preserving the collective bargaining process.
The governor and legislative leaders continued to mix it up. Christie complained that the Democrats did not meet with him before announcing their arbitration plan, but Oliver said she and Senate President Steve Sweeney were told Monday that the governor was not available.
"Lie," Christie said, when asked about Oliver's claim. "Never came down here, never tried to speak to me."
However, Bill Caruso, executive director of the Assembly Democrats, said two text messages and an office visit to Deputy Chief Counsel Kevin O'Dowd to confirm a scheduled meeting between the governor, Oliver and Sweeney went unanswered until the end of the day Monday.
Christie said he is frustrated that the Legislature hasn't enacted more of his 33 "toolkit" proposals to curb property tax growth after they approved the property tax cap. The Legislature has approved some proposals, and has considered other ideas the governor proposed, but some of the measures have stalled.
Local officials say they need relief from affordable housing requirements and civil service rules in order to comply with the forthcoming cap without resorting to layoffs and service cuts.
Christie said Tuesday if the Legislature fails to enact significant reforms by the end of the year, he'll lay the blame at the feet of Democratic legislators, all of whom face re-election next year.