Arbitration Cap Dominates Latest Christie Town Hall

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Gov. Chris Christie hammered away at police and fire salary hikes again today.

A 2 percent cap on arbitration awards expired on April 1, and while the Senate voted unanimously to renew it, the Assembly is holding out for a more flexible version.

Christie says the arbitration cap has led to a 24-year low in property-tax growth.

“There’s very few things we find on government that actually work. We actually stumbled on one. This works. And they refuse to do itin my opinion because the people who donate so generously to their campaigns — the PBA, FOP and FMBA — are telling ’em they don’t want it. Why? Because they want to go back to the system of 4, 5, 6 percent raises,” Christie said.

Christie called out Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for not going along with a concept he supported four years ago. Under Prieto’s less stringent version, Christie said, 85 percent of municipalities could escape the 2 percent cap.

Yesterday, the governor stood with mayors and county officials to support a strict cap and urged his audience today to put pressure on the Assembly.

“Get a majority of votes to force the speaker to bring it to the floor. I can tell you you’ll get all 32 Republicans, which means we only need nine brave Democrats,” said Christie.

The state’s major newspapers endorse the stricter cap. Police and fire unions argue their members have lost ground because of higher pension and benefit costs.

Speaker Prieto last night on this program offered to sit down with the governor.

“I am committed in a timely fashion to put something forward,” said Prieto.

“The speaker now says he wants to negotiate with me. What’s to negotiate? We have a system that works,” said Christie.

An hour of question-and-answer followed, but was largely uneventful.

The media at these town halls keep waiting for someone to ask the governor about the bridge scandal, but it rarely happens. Christie says that’s because regular people have more important things on their minds.

We spoke to a couple in the audience who seemed to agree.

“It seems like it’s dying down. It seems like people are moving on,” said Paul Whistler.

“We have people in this state with no jobs, no health care, no houses to live in. We have no rock salt. We have issues in this state a little more concrete than chasing the governor around to ask him about Bridgegate,” said Colleen Begley.

Several dozen protestors turned out, some to criticize his taxpayer-funded legal report, but Christie was indoors, in his element.