A 2 percent cap on salary increases that arbitrators can award for public employees expired March 31, and Gov. Chris Christie has been using his Town Hall meetings as a vehicle to rail against the Democrat-controlled Assembly for not talking action on a bill to extend the limit.

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Christie speaks at a town hall meeting in Fairfield

At his most recent public event Christie said the Assembly is protecting special interest groups and that has one firefighters' union leader upset.

"We are absolutely a special interest group because we do something that's pretty special and pretty courageous," said Ed Donnelly, New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association president. "We're out there protecting the citizens of New Jersey. Special interest group? If you're going to refer to us in a positive light like that, I'm all about it, but once it becomes disparaging and negative we take offense to that."

The word "entitlement" was also used by Christie at his Town Hall and that too is offensive, Donnelly said.

"They're not entitlements," Donnelly said. "They're pension and health benefits for men and women who are out there putting their lives on the line every day."

The legislature passed a bill in March to permit 3 percent raises if local governments could prove they saved money through layoffs or by forcing workers pay more for pension or health benefits. Christie conditionally vetoed the measure and the Democrat-controlled state Senate passed the bill again -- this time, with the 3 percent increase carved out, among other things. The legislation has been stalled in the Assembly ever since.

"We're just looking to come to the table," Donnelly said. "We want to work with the legislature, work with the governor on reform that works for our members and the taxpayers."

The Assembly is still working to come up with a compromise that protects towns and taxpayers while also being fair to firefighters and police, said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus).