NJ Mayors Ask Christie for Help on Tax Cap

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    About 30 New Jersey mayors appealed to Gov. Chris Christie for help on tax cap.

    About 30 New Jersey mayors appealed to Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday for help complying with a new limit on property tax and cost increases that takes effect Jan. 1.

    The mayors asked Christie to push the Legislature to pass bills that would contain some local government costs and help them hold expenses to within the new 2 percent cap.

    Christie and the Assembly Republicans accused their Democratic colleagues of stalling action on property tax reform legislation. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said deliberation over various tax reform proposals is continuing on schedule.

    The Assembly OK'd two bills designed to cut government red tape and control costs on Thursday and the Senate cleared five.

    The head of the state police union was also at the Statehouse, warning of massive layoffs and corresponding crime spikes unless something is done to help fund municipal public safety. The union had called for a temporary exemption to the cap for public safety costs, but backed off when it became clear the proposal is opposed by the Republican governor and the Democratic leader of the Senate.

    "It's dead in this house too," Christie said when asked about a bill introduced by Assembly Democratic Leader Joe Cryan, then panned by Senate President Steve Sweeney, to exempt police, firefighters and emergency services workers from the cap.

    State PBA President Tony Wieners said there are 2,228 fewer police officers in New Jersey now than at the start of 2009 and said that number would accelerate when towns adhere to a 2 percent cap on spending growth rather than the current 4 percent.

    The mayors, who were accompanied by New Jersey League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel, said they'll be forced to slash services in 2011 to remain within the lower cap unless they get relief from mandated costs like employee pensions and health care and the arbitration system that awards police and firefighter contracts.

    Dressel said most municipalities operate on a calendar year, so mayors are preparing budgets now for next year.

    Christie on Thursday repeated his call for changes to the way public employee salary disputes are resolved through arbitration and criticized Democrats in the Assembly for inaction.

    "I wonder what the heck they're doing down there in the Assembly," Christie said. He and the mayors want reforms to be in place when the cap kicks in.

    Christie said arbitration reform was an essential component of his so-called "tool-kit" proposals because arbitrators often side with public safety workers when settling contract disputes. In the shore town of Belmar, for example, he said police were recently awarded contracts with a 15 percent salary increase over five years despite the pending 2 percent cap.

    The Assembly unanimously approved two bills: one allows more groups to challenge costs to towns that the state mandates but doesn't pay for, like requiring additional security measures at municipal courts and the other allows more time between required re-examinations of municipal master plans.

    The Senate approved bills that restrict quasi-government employees from enrolling in the state pension system; allow state colleges to pool insurance coverage; bar retiring public employees from cashing out more than $15,000 in unused sick and vacation time; encourage municipal court mergers; and eliminate a 5 percent down payment by towns and counties for bonds.

    Legislative leaders said additional cost-control measures will be on the governor's desk by the end of the year, but the bills they pass won't all mirror Christie's proposals.