DiVincenzo calls for return to 2-percent arbitration cap

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. renewed his request to Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to reenact the 2-percent cap on interest-arbitration increases for police and fire employees Tuesday, Aug. 14. The measure was first introduced in 2011 and renewed in 2014, before it was allowed to expire in December 2017.

“As Essex County executive, I am more concerned with doing what is best for our 800,000 residents than I am with awarding lucrative pay increases to public employee unions,” DiVincenzo said in his second press release on the matter Tuesday, Aug. 14. “Our hard-working residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the state, and, as their representative, it is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep taxes from skyrocketing. One highly effective tool was the 2-percent cap on salary arbitration awards for police and fire unions. Unfortunately, the governor and State Legislature allowed this cap to expire on Dec. 31, 2017.”

The same day DiVincenzo urged state government to re-impose the 2-percent cap on salary arbitration awards for police and fire unions, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan and New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Ed Donnelly released a joint statement in which they “bash DiVincenzo on 2-percent cap,” according to their statement’s headline.

“It is disturbing to see that just a few short months after the lapse of Gov. Christie’s 2-percent arbitration cap we already have a public official calling for its reinstatement,” Colligan and Donnelly wrote. “None of the data has changed and it remains as true as it was when Gov. Christie was using the bully pulpit to outline his false narratives that arbitration caps can control or reduce property taxes.

“Of course, County Executive DiVincenzo was among the chief cheerleaders for former Gov. Christie from the very first day of his administration, so it comes as no surprise that he would be pining away for ‘the good old days’ when it was standard practice to duck the responsibility of leadership and demonize our members,” they continued. “The county executive should change his party affiliation. Democrats believe in collective bargaining. His endorsed governor is gone and his rhetoric and failed agenda left with him.”

Police and fire unions were awarded salary increases of approximately 5 percent before 2011, which impacted municipal and county budgets. The cap, in place from 2011 to 2017, made the impact on Essex County budgets more manageable, and taxes did not have to be raised to pay for the salary increases, according to the county.

“We all agree that counties and municipalities need additional resources to control expenses and stem the rise of property taxes, and over the last several months there has been great debate and competing ideas on how this should be done,” DiVincenzo said in the first press release on Aug. 14. “Debate is healthy, but the 2-percent salary cap on police and fire employees has proven to be effective and should be re-established.”

DiVincenzo also pointed out that if the salary cap is renewed, it would decrease the possibility of municipalities having to lay off employees.

“Without the 2-percent salary cap, local governments could, once again, find themselves on the losing end of arbitration proceedings, which historically have awarded higher percentage raises — clearly placing the best interests of public employee unions over the taxpayers,” DiVincenzo said in the first release. “If public employee salaries were to once again rise uncontrollably, local governments would be forced to make difficult decisions to stay within the 2-percent cap for tax increasing — having to choose between laying off employees or cutting services to balance budgets.”

But Donnelly and Colligan disagreed, saying that proper bargaining can help both municipalities and their emergency personnel.

“Mayors and business administrators should bargain with law enforcement and firefighters at the local level. Salary increases are consistent with pre-arbitration cap numbers. Time and again our members have sacrificed, including when our Locals conceded millions in savings to cut longevity, lower salaries and add more steps to reach top pay,” they wrote. “We fought for every inch against Gov. Christie and his cronies when they tried to cast our members as the villains while they underfunded their obligations and took advantage of the state’s pension system and we will continue to engage in that fight every day if it once again becomes necessary.”

Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin did not respond to requests for comment by press time Aug. 21.