Sweeney: No Vote on Police and Fire Salary Cap Before Election

Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Senate President Steve Sweeney shot down the possibility of extending a 2 percent cap on yearly salary increases for police and firefighters before Election Day, saying he would prefer to wait for the next governor.

Kim Guadagno, the Republican nominee for governor, had called on state lawmakers to vote before the Nov. 7 election on extending a law that effectively caps public safety salary hikes at 2 percent. The “interest arbitration cap” is seen as one of the biggest factors in slowing the rise of property tax increases under Gov. Chris Christie. It expires at the end of the year.

“I challenge every single one of the 120 legislators and Phil Murphy to the following: Make it clear to the people of the state of New Jersey where you stand on property taxes. Make it clear by voting on it before the election 70 days from today,” Guadagno said Tuesday at a campaign event in Robbinsville. “If they really do care where the state is going, then they will pass it again before Nov. 7.”

Sweeney said no thanks on Thursday. But he left the door open to a vote during a lame-duck session after the election. The arbitration cap limits the raises public safety workers can win once contact disputes go to arbitration at 2 percent. Police and firefighter unions backing Murphy aren’t huge fans of the law.

“We will have a new governor very soon, and we look forward to discussing this issue with the incoming administration,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said in a statement to Observer on Thursday.

Guadagno and her campaign say their best shot to chip away at Murphy’s lead in the polls is to focus on taxes, especially New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. Murphy has not decided whether he supports extending the interest arbitration cap and says he’s awaiting a task force report on the law due at the end of the year, according to his spokesman. Guadagno has bashed him for that, calling it a “disqualifying position.”

“Refusing to extend the cap is tantamount to Phil Murphy endorsing a de facto property tax increase on New Jerseyans,” Guadagno campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement.

While Guadagno correctly noted that the interest arbitration cap expires in December, she flubbed the details of a separate law attacking the property tax problem.

A different piece of legislation Christie signed in his first term limits local property tax increases to 2 percent a year. Guadagno incorrectly said this week that law also would expire in December. “Everything expires in December,” she said.

“Let’s be clear, the 2 percent levy cap is permanent,” Murphy campaign spokesman Derek Roseman said. “The interest arbitration cap sunsets on Chris Christie’s and Kim Guadagno’s watch, so this is on them.”

Sweeney: No Vote on Police and Fire Salary Cap Before Election