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Christie urges keeping 2% raise cap

He asked the Assembly to reapprove the limit on hikes that can be given to firefighters and police.

TRENTON Gov. Christie on Monday urged the Assembly to extend a 2 percent cap on raises that arbitrators can award to police and firefighters by readopting a measure that passed the Legislature overwhelmingly in 2010.

The governor was joined by state legislators and local mayors in calling for an extension through 2017 of a law that expired on April 1. The mayors are required by state law to enact municipal budgets that raise property taxes no more than 2 percent.

Both they and the governor warned that taxes would rise or services would be cut if arbitrators were allowed to settle contracts without caps.

"If you are going to put a 2 percent cap on the levy, which we should and which has worked over the course of the last three years, then you need to put a cap on those things that drive the levy the most, and that is the expense of employees in the public sector," Christie said.

It's up to Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to decide whether to post the bill that the Senate has approved.

Prieto said he was ready to settle the impasse through negotiations. He said he wanted a compromise that served taxpayers and first responders.

The Democratic-led Legislature sent Christie a bill last month allowing raises of up to 3 percent in towns that saved money through layoffs or by passing more pension costs onto emergency workers. The bill also would have exempted bargaining units that negotiated a contract with raises of less than 2 percent in the previous three years.

The governor struck those provisions in a conditional veto.

The Senate quickly accepted Christie's changes, but the Assembly has not voted.

A firefighters union says even a 3 percent raise doesn't begin to cover the additional pension and health care costs that have been shifted onto public employees.

"Firefighters are not the cause of the financial problems of our state and local governments," said Ed Donnelly, president of the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. "The minimal 1 percent increase our membership is requesting amounts to pennies on the dollar but it provides some relief for those who have sacrificed so much."

But Joe DiVincenzo, the Essex County executive and a close ally of Christie, said his county's budget would not have been able to absorb higher increases for the 26 public worker contracts that expired on Dec. 31.