TRENTON, N.J. — The fate of expiring legislation that caps what police and fire officials can get in labor contract disputes and up to $5 billion in tax credits to attract Amazon’s new headquarters is uncertain as New Jersey’s government heads into Chris Christie’s lame duck period.
Before Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes over New Jersey’s government from Christie, a Republican, the Democrat-led Legislature has roughly six weeks to wrap up business with the two-term incumbent.
The issues cropped up in the fall campaign to succeed Christie, with Republican nominee Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno supporting renewing the cap and granting the tax credits to Amazon. But Murphy was not definitive on either issue.
Christie has called on legislators to renew the so-called interest arbitration cap that goes back to 2010 and was renewed in 2014. The measure caps at 2 percent the amount the police and fire officials can be awarded when their labor contracts are in dispute.
Christie bills the measure as a major factor in keeping property taxes — the country’s highest — down. He has said state data show the police and fire salary cap has saved taxpayers $530 million.
The Democratic leaders of the Legislature say they want to wait for Murphy to decide how to proceed before charting a course. Murphy says he won’t decide until a bipartisan report from a commission studying the cap comes out in December. The GOP-appointed members of that commission released the report over Democrat-picked panelists in December. The preliminary document showed the cap was a successor, but Murphy says it’s not complete.
Christie and both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have committed to granting Amazon up to $5 billion in tax credits to attract its second headquarters to the state. While Murphy has said he supports Amazon bringing its estimated 50,000 jobs to New Jersey, he has stopped short of backing the tax credits explicitly.
Senate President Steve Sweeney said the issue won’t get taken up in lame duck unless Amazon signals it intends to come to the state, which under Christie has selected Newark among other cities to host the project.
“If Amazon comes, we’ve committed. We wrote a letter of support to do these changes. If Amazon comes, we’re gonna pass the incentive,” Sweeney said.
Aside from the cap and Amazon legislation leaders say they want to pass higher education affordability measures in the lame duck.
But curiosity over how Murphy wants to proceed is a prevailing attitude among lawmakers.
“I would hope and pray that the current Legislature will respect the change in leadership in the executive branch,” said Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer, a Democrat. “The lame-duck process (should be) a reflection of the future rather than the past.”
Murphy will be inaugurated as the state’s 56th governor on Jan. 16, taking over for the unpopular Republican who has said he’s likely to go into the private sector.
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