- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie issued a quick conditional veto Thursday to make major changes to a bill passed by lawmakers to extend the cap on arbitrator-awarded pay increases for police and firefighter unions.

Both houses of the Legislature passed the initial bill Thursday before the governor rejected it because of details of the lawmakers’ way of handling the extension.

The Senate promptly passed a version incorporating Christie’s changes. The Assembly has not acted on it.

The measure is a key part of Christie’s effort to control growth of the state’s property taxes, which are the nation’s highest. In his first year in office, in 2010, he and lawmakers agreed to a 2 percent cap, with some exceptions, on property tax hikes. Lawmakers also agreed to other measures to control local government spending, including interest arbitration for police and fire contracts that reach impasse. Christie calls that one a key in reducing increases since he took office.

“The path to meaningful property tax reform requires that local elected officials hold the tools needed to control spending,” Christie said Thursday in his conditional veto.

The original cap on the raises is to expire on Monday.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature put forth and adopted a new version that included the possibility of bigger raises for many of the public safety unions.

Christie objected to a provision to raise the cap to 3 percent instead of 2 percent in cases in which it can be shown that higher health premiums or job reductions on the forces have saved taxpayers money. He also nixed a section making contracts exempt from the cap in future arbitrations if the unions had already negotiated one raise less than 2 percent.

He also is striking a section that would give the unions and municipalities some say over which arbitrator would hear the case. He called for creating a task force to study the impact of the cap.