TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A sea of blue, black and gold surrounded the Statehouse as up to 12,000 off-duty and retired New Jersey police and firefighters rallied to protest staff cuts and promote public safety.

Gov. Chris Christie blames the lay offs on the unions, 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

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“We put our lives on the line every single day,” a Lakewood patrolman, who saw Officer Christopher Matlosz gunned down two months ago, said. “Every day I leave my house and I kiss my wife goodbye may be the last time.”

The public safety workers say budget cuts and layoffs have thinned their ranks to unsafe levels. They also object to proposals by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney to raise their contributions for pension and health benefits.

Protesting officers say crime will rise, reports WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond

“They can yell and scream and do all the stuff they want to do but it doesn’t change the facts; the money is not there,” Christie said. “They’re getting laid off because they refuse to compromise in any way.”

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Democrats in the Legislature lined up to speak at Thursday’s event.

The rally was the second at the Statehouse in a week. The AFL-CIO sponsored a unity rally for Wisconsin state workers Friday. They were fighting limits on their right to collectively bargain.

Public safety workers began setting up for their rally before dawn. The state Police Benevolent Association had 110 buses.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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