Many politicians, local and state, want everyone to believe that binding arbitration is the reason local property taxes are high, when this simply is not true. Not daunted by the truth, the Governor and his allies are pushing for changes to binding arbitration that will reduce public safety, that will end innovative and cooperative approaches and will not save money nor preserve public safety and it certainly will not reduce your property taxes,
The truth is that arbitration is rarely used in the firefighter world as approximately 10% of the firefighter contracts over the last five years have been arbitrated and not negotiated. The truth is that binding arbitration exists because firefighters are not permitted by law to strike. When management and the bargaining group cannot agree on a contract, they must resort to binding arbitration, which is expensive for both management and labor. If these changes were instituted, more contracts would end in arbitration. This would increase the cost to local taxpayers not decrease it.
The push for these changes is a way to change the subject when the unpleasant truth is that the Governor is balancing the State’s budget on the backs of local property taxpayers by reducing aid to municipalities and school districts by more than $1.2 billion dollars in the current budget year. These cuts, and not arbitration, will raise your taxes and reduce your safety and quality of life.
We see the effects already. Layoffs of firefighters are already occurring around the state and most recently 30 firefighters were laid off in Atlantic City. There are threatened cuts in many departments, like Camden and Newark, that will mean firefighters cannot get to fires as quickly as needed and do not have the resources to fight them. Small fires can get out of control very quickly, costing lives and harming the State’s economy. Fiscally, we are seeing tax increases in many towns because they cannot balance their budgets when Trenton is taking back promised aid.
To divert attention, the Governor claims the problem is with arbitration and wants the law to mandate a 2% hard cap. This makes no sense when he (the Governor) has not dealt with health care costs, fuel cost and any other cost that a municipality has no control over. There is no benefit to taxpayers because taxes will still increase to cover these increased costs. Instituting a hard cap will no doubt increase costs because there will be no incentive to cooperate or work together on any local level and that means drawn out disputes and arbitrations with substantial costs for all.
We have been working with many towns to get federal funds and grants to retain firefighters, rehire firefighters through Federal SAFER grants and for firefighting equipment through Federal FIRE Act grants. In many areas, firefighters have worked together with municipal officials to improve fire fighting and manage costs, but that truth is lost when people pursue an agenda of blaming others and do not tell the truth to the public.
These efforts by the Governor and his allies are part of a political agenda where attacking the men and women who fight fires and rescue people, who protect the public and who teach your children are more important than governing. The Governor is misleading the public for his own agenda of trying to break the unions, and change the subject from the costs of balancing the State’s budget by cutting aid to cities and towns and squandering opportunities for millions in grant funds.
That is the truth and it has nothing to do with arbitration.
The PFANJ represents 3,300 fire fighters and paramedics in New Jersey. It is the state association in NJ for the IAFF, headquartered in Washington, which represents more than 297,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics. The IAFF is the leading advocate in North America for the health and safety of first responders. More information is available at www.iaff.org