DRBA giveth, and Christie taketh away

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Governor vetoes salary increases for DRBA employees

TRENTON — The Delaware River and Bay Authority and Gov. Chris Christie disagree on how DRBA employees should be compensated. 

The DRBA issued a statement Tuesday saying the governor vetoed a resolution that would have given a 1.9 percent cost of living adjustment to union and nonunion employees.

Christie’s office responded the same day, saying the increases and health benefit cost sharing were out of line with New Jersey public employees and “inappropriate for the current fiscal climate.”

“These weren’t COLAs in any formal sense, they were contract agreements to increase salaries and retain low levels of health benefits cost sharing that are out of step with New Jersey public employees, federal employees, and the private sector,” said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman with the governor’s office. 

According to the DRBA statement, the increase was part of a union contract and budget amendment containing a cost of living increase. The DRBA said its employees have not had a cost of living increase in five of the last six years.

The DRBA was established in 1960 as a bistate agency to manage the transportation links between Delaware and New Jersey. It has a 12-member Board of Commissioners, with six from Delaware and six from New Jersey.

Roberts said the governors of Delaware and New Jersey can veto actions taken by the DRBA commissioners. DRBA officials have said Christie has been trying to call all the shots regarding the authority.

“Gov. Christie has attempted to impose a ‘New Jersey way or the highway’ mentality and repeatedly directed us to conform our operations to the rules of the state of New Jersey, especially on personnel matters,” said DBRA Vice Chairman William E. Lower III. “Yesterday’s veto is a further indication of that one-sided stance.”

The governor’s office said the proposed three-year contracts would have provided annual 1.9 percent salary increases, and the health care premium sharing by employees is at an unchanged level of 10 percent for the term of the contract. These terms, Christie’s office said, were granted despite public employees in New Jersey entering the fourth year of increased cost-sharing for their health benefits without offsetting salary increases. Many nonunion employees have not received salary increases as the state emerges from the recession, it said.

“The DRBA is well aware that New Jersey state employees and many local employees have already moved to a higher level of health care cost sharing than what is paid by DRBA employees today and that there must be equity in these times of fiscal restraint to protect taxpayers and toll payers alike,” Christie said in a statement. “The DRBA’s attempted action here is clearly contrary to that principle and inconsistent with the contracts public employees are living under in New Jersey today. For these reasons, I am vetoing these inappropriate actions.”

Commissioner Samuel E. Lathern, vice chairman of the DRBA’s Personnel Committee, said the raises were a long overdue cost of living increase. He said the DRBA is an independent body that receives no funding from either state. 

Roberts said DRBA employees are not state employees, but employees of the authority.  


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