The “Tool Kit” and the Legislature

On Thursday a somewhat tepid Assembly Bill 3393 cleared the Budget Committee and was scheduled for a floor vote yesterday, but something happened on the way to the chamber. Past Blue Jersey diaries and numerous articles have pointed out excesses in police and fire contract arbitration procedures which have led to high salaries. Governor Christie has been insisting that a hard cap is the only real way to control salaries for municipalities. The Democratic Assembly Monday appeared in disarray.

The Assembly bill provides measures to reduce such police and firemen arbitration excesses, but it does not include a cap. During a Statehouse news conference on Thursday, Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver set out their version of a program that would fix the system and allow for more “creativity” and “flexibility.” However, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, “Assembly Bill 3393 is weak and offers nothing to reform this broken system,” Democratic Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said, “The Democrats’ attempt at reform does not go far enough,” and Cory Booker has long supported a hard cap. So between Governor Christie, mayors and county executives the bill is now in abeyance. The Democratic Assemblypersons need to regain their mojo. Also the fact that two of them are employees of DiVincenzo and others hold multiple government jobs further complicates the matter.

Christie has been goading the legislators to move more rapidly on his “Tool kit,” while they have insisted on a more measured pace. So far they seem to lack a coherent vision on how best to approach arbitration and the larger issue of reducing costs for municipalities. And now they face the ire of county and city leaders. After the vote was cancelled, Speaker Oliver said “The Assembly’s goal in advancing this bill was to at the very least begin an intelligent debate.” That’s OK, but hopefully Democratic legislators will soon get beyond debate and develop a clearer strategy.  

Although the issues involved are numerous, it is the police salaries which captured a lot of attention. To find out the median salary of police officers in your town, the number of officers there, and the per cent who make $100,000 or more scroll down on this page link. In Teaneck, for example,  the result is $97,486 – 93 – 33%. My County Executive McNerney has been a long-time supporter of sharing and consolidating services, but even this approach is not a complete solution and needs its own better tool kit.    

Comments (3)

  1. brendanod

    Salary cap and arbitration “reform” are two more issues where power is being stripped from municipal leaders.  Christie is attempting to legislate everything into law so municipal leaders will have very little governing to do.  

    Most laws and codes were written to deal with problems that occur over time.  The governor likes to pretend that evil democrats and unions dreamed up arbitration and other collective bargaining rights.  I would agree that over time laws may need to be tweaked to accomodate modern times.  Repealing laws and codes to achieve political ideology will only lead to a new set of problems.  

    The GOP is trying to ramrod complicated legislation to achieve political victory and please people who have very little interest in the details.  Some democrats are listening to their core constituency and trying to understand details before making decisions.  

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  2. brendanod

    Although the union leadership of the PBA and the FOP has been outspoken towards the governor, I would bet my next paycheck that the vast majority of NJ police officers typically vote republican, having little knowledge that the only reason they make the salaries that they do are because of the collective bargaining rights that democrats support.  If they only knew that if Christie had his way  (and there were no democrats to stand in is way) they would be making $15.00 bucks per hour.

    The claim that Christie lied to police officers about pensions and arbitration is true.  Christie had to peel the great majority from the union line.  He was successful.  I wonder how many still will put their own social attitiudes over their wallets?

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  3. Bill Orr (Post author)

     Speaker Oliver’s leadership of the Assembly caucus was sorely tried when Democrats did not support her arbitration legislation.  In fairness Sen. President Sweeney had also argued for the bill’s passage. The Star Ledger reports, “Two ranking sources inside Oliver’s own caucus who supported the Democratic bill said it is dead.”

    Key Democratic legislators continue to oppose further hard caps but have not resolved conflicts within their own caucus and between themselves and both Christie and local county executives and mayors. The Assembly did pass one tool-kit measure Monday, capping payouts for unused sick time accrued by public workers. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. Nonetheless, the larger issue of how to reduce  costs for municipalities has not been resolved, and the road to a solution appears to be a rocky one.  

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