Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. is calling on Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin to work together and re-enact the 2 percent on annual salary increases for police officers and firefighters that are awarded through arbitration. 

The measure was first adopted in 2011 by the Democratically-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The law was renewed in 2014 before it was allowed to sunset on December 31, 2017.

"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. 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 said.

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During the gubernatorial campaign, Republican candidate Kim Guadagno repeatedly attacked Murphy for refusing to say where he stood on the 2 percent cap. Murphy received the endorsement of both police and firefighters unions.

Since taking office in January, Murphy has not said yet whether he supports the 2 percent cap, saying he will wait for a final report from a task force studying the issue.

DiVincenzo noted that because of the 2 percent salary cap on public safety raises and a 2 percent cap on tax increases, which is still in effect, Essex County has been able to limit its annual tax increase to an average of just 1.65 percent over the last eight years.

"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. 

"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," he said.

A a joint statement released by New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan and New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Ed Donnelly said DiVincenzo's call to re-enact the 2 percent cap was "disturbing."

"None of the data has changed and it remains as true as it was when Governor Christie was using the bully pulpit to outline his false narratives that arbitration caps can control or reduce property taxes," the statement reads.

"Mayors and business administrators should bargain with law enforcement and firefighters at the local level," they said. "Salary increases are consistent with pre-arbitration cap numbers.  Time and again our members have sacrificed, including when our local's conceded millions in savings to cut longevity, lower salaries and add more steps to reach top pay.  We fought for every inch against Governor 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."

Updated April 14, 2018 at 4:18 p.m. with statement from NJSPBA and NJSFMBA.