- Associated Press - Thursday, September 28, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s appointees on a task force studying a cap on some police and fire wages in labor disagreements kindled a dispute on Thursday with their Democrat-picked counterparts by releasing a report showing the limit succeeded in lowering property taxes.

Christie’s four appointees said the findings were “too important” to keep unpublished, but the four Democrat-appointed members called the report a “sham.”

The report has been an issue in this year’s contest to succeed the term-limited Christie, with Republicans arguing the cap has big implications for New Jersey property taxes, the country’s highest. Democrats have mostly stayed quiet on the issue. Their allies in labor say the cap hurts unions’ collective bargaining power.

Christie and Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon released the report on the so-called interest arbitration cap, despite lacking support from four task force members. The governor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno hailed the findings as evidence the 2 percent cap has led to lowering the property tax rate.

Guadagno supports renewing the cap while her Democratic opponent in the Nov. 7 election, Phil Murphy, said Thursday he will lay out his position based on a “full hearing.” The cap expires at the end of the year.

In a statement, Murphy called the report a “political stunt” that fails to take into account the views of the entire task force. Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto also took aim, saying the report is “not complete” or “official.”

Prieto and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney appointed four task force members, including Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association President Ed Donnelly, who said Thursday the report doesn’t take into account higher costs union members are paying because of other pension cuts enacted on Christie’s watch.

Christie has cast the cap - along with a separate 2 percent cap on property tax levies overall - as a key part of his legacy. Guadagno has based her campaign on a promise to lower property taxes. She attacked Murphy over declining to state his position on the cap.

“By ducking this issue and not supporting the cap, Phil Murphy is once again taking the side of the Trenton special interests over the hardworking taxpayers of New Jersey,” Guadagno said in a statement.

Among the report’s findings are that average annual property tax growth in the five-year period before the cap was 4.71 percent and that fell to 1.97 percent after it was enacted, through 2015. The four Christie-appointed members of the task force also found that the number of interest arbitration filings has dropped, from more than 100 before the cap to just nine in 2016.

In a statement Thursday, Christie called on the Legislature to renew the cap before it expires in December. He leaves office in January.

“Before this cap sunsets at the end of this year, New Jersey’s leaders in control of the legislature must make this a permanent reform,” Christie said.

The governor’s appointees said they released their findings without the other panelists’ support because they were “too important” to keep unpublished.


Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini

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