Christie signs compromise bill on capping police, firefighter raises

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

TRENTON - Gov. Christie signed a bill Tuesday that renewed a cap on raises awarded to police and firefighters through arbitration, which he said was an "important tool to fight property taxes" in New Jersey.

The 2 percent cap was enacted during Christie's first term but expired in April, as Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) sought to change parts of the law.

Christie and Prieto reached a deal earlier this month. On Tuesday, the governor extended the cap through 2017.

"We're continuing what we started and renewing the bipartisan arbitration cap so that we can continue to rein in the cost of government and stem the property tax crisis on behalf of New Jersey's overburdened taxpayers," Christie said outside the Statehouse Tuesday, standing beside mayors and legislators.

Under the new law, arbitration awards will be compounded annually, which was not done previously. Prieto had initially sought to entirely exempt some unions from the cap but dropped that provision from the final bill.

Since the cap took effect in January 2011, arbitrators have awarded average annual raises of 1.9 percent, according to a March task force report on the issue. Controlling the costs of public-safety salaries has been key to slowing property-tax growth, Christie said.

Last year, Christie said, the average state property-tax levy increased by 1.7 percent, compared to 7 percent each year for the decade before he took office in 2010.

Prieto said he wanted to "be mindful of our first responders."

"The job they do is not like the job the rest of us do," he said. "They're running into harm's way every day. Most people are running away from that."

- Andrew Seidman