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Debate Rages Over Property Tax Cap In N.J.

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New Jersey Statehouse - Trenton, NJ - File Photo

New Jersey Statehouse – Trenton, NJ (file)

levon_feature Levon Putney
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TRENTON, N.J. (AP / WCBS 880) - Days after Democratic leaders stood up to Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s complaints that they’re blocking reforms to help towns keep property tax increases to 2 percent or less, they couldn’t muster the support to pass their own plan.

LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reports

At the last minute, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver announced that she had postponed Monday’s scheduled vote on a proposal to change the way contract disputes involving police and firefighters are settled. She blamed the governor’s office.

“We have broad support for our reform legislation, but the bottom line is our hopes to build a consensus have so far been rejected by the governor’s office,” Oliver said in a statement sent out minutes before the voting session was to start.

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, the bill’s sponsor, said rank-and-file Democrats wanted more bipartisan support for the bill so the decision was made to postpone the vote. “The public wants people to work together,” said Greenwald, D-Voohrees.

Greenwald said the measure wasn’t going anywhere for at least 10 days.

But the governor’s office, in turn, blamed Democrats for failing to act.

“It’s disappointing that another day has gone by without real action … including a hard cap on arbitration awards,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.

Public workers aren’t allowed to strike so contract disputes between them and towns are settled by arbitrators.

Starting in January, towns will be required to limit increases on property taxes to no more than 2 percent. Mayors and the governor have been pushing for a law that would put the same 2 percent limit on contract awards.

The Democrats’ measure does not have a hard cap. Their proposal would require an arbitrator to choose a contract based on final offers from both sides and to consider the constraint of the new property tax cap. Arbitrators would have to pick one offer and couldn’t come up with a compromise.

Christie said the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

“A hard cap would bring meaningful collective-bargaining reform and is essential to finally control property taxes for every New Jersey homeowner,” Drewniak said.

A threat of a veto by Christie was also a possibility; some mayors are encouraging the governor to veto the measure if it passed.

“The problem with (the arbitration bill) is it does not go far enough to protect municipalities,” said Democratic Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage.

Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a prominent Democrat, said the bill was weak and did not go far enough in changing the system to help counties and municipalities control costs.

However, the League of Municipalities was happy to see the vote postponed and encouraged that Oliver appeared willing to consider amendments.

“Having approved an inflexible 2 percent cap on the property tax levy, state policy makers need to recognize that any arbitration awards with a total economic impact of more than 2 percent will force cuts elsewhere in local budgets,” said the League’s executive director, Bill Dressel.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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