Star Ledger Editorial
Nov. 24th, 2010
New Jersey Democrats offer compromise on salary cap, but Governor Christie rejects it
Democrats yesterday overcame intense opposition within their own ranks and made a historic compromise to contain the cost of public employees.
This is a big deal. The Democrats agreed to a 2 percent cap on salary increases for police and firefighters in arbitration awards, a measure that will help avert massive layoffs as towns adjust to the 2 percent cap on property taxes. In the governor’s so-called tool box of reforms, this is the big hammer.
Public-employee unions hate this plan because it limits what they can gain at the bargaining table. But that bargaining has helped to create the mess we’re in today.
It’s allowed cops to retire with trunkloads of cash for unused sick time. It’s allowed early retirements, free lifetime health benefits and big raises, even when most taxpayers are coping with pay freezes. The salary cap is a needed corrective.
So how did Gov. Chris Christie react? By snarling, mostly. Instead of shaking the hand that Democrats extended, he slapped it away.
He even accused Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver of lying when she claimed she had tried to arrange a meeting to discuss the issue. As it turns out, she was right. He owes her an apology.
Yes, the Democrats softened the governor’s plan around the edges. But each of their changes are reasonable.
They would exempt health and pension benefits from the cap, just as those costs are exempted in the property tax cap the governor signed last summer. Without that, rising health costs could force public employees to take pay cuts forever, a position that’s simply not reasonable.
Last summer, the governor’s office defended those exemptions by saying his office could contain pension and health costs with reforms from Trenton. That remains true today.
Democrats also would sunset the salary cap at three years to see how it’s working, and average the increases over the life of the contract. They would exempt police uniform allowances and continuing education from the cap.
If the governor wants reform, this solid proposal offers him a chance to be a statesman and strike a deal, as he did last summer on property taxes. The danger is that he will pick a fight instead, so he can have an election issue next year. We don’t need an endless stream of YouTube moments, with the governor starring as the tough guy from Jersey.
We need reform. And the Democrats just gave the governor a chance to seize it.