The New Jersey Assembly has approved a bill that could help towns stay below the 2 percent cap on property tax increases. The measure limits arbitrator-awarded salary increases for police and firefighters.

NJ Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) said the legislation represents a compromise reached with Gov. Chris Christie and state Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford).

"It's important for us, and for the quality of life for all of our residents, that we make sure that police and fire and our first responders are taken care of," Prieto said.

Under the bill approved Monday, the 2 percent cap on base salary increases in arbitration awards would be extended to Dec. 31, 2017, and the awards would be compounded for each year of the contract. The length of time that an arbitrator has to make a decision would be increased from 45 to 90 calendar days, and the timeframe during which a notice of appeal of an arbitrator's decision must be filed would be increased from seven to 14 days.

"We actually saw how to make this bill a better bill, and for the next 3½ years this is what we will have in place," Prieto said. "In my eyes, probably it's not enough. I wish I would've been able to get them more, but at the end of the day getting them something was the goal."

Also under the provisions of the legislation, the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Impact Task Force would continue, with a final report due on or before Dec. 31, 2017.

"It definitely protects our taxpayers, because it makes sure that our taxes are kept in check -- that they do not grow at an exorbitant rate," Prieto said.

Christie conditionally vetoed an earlier interest arbitration bill that passed both houses of the legislature, because he did not like that it would have raised the cap to 3 percent if it could be shown that higher health premiums or job cuts saved taxpayers money. The governor also objected to a clause making contracts exempt from the cap in future arbitrations if the unions had already negotiated one raise less than 2 percent.

Prieto said he hoped that the full Senate would vote on the bill very soon, possibly as early as Thursday. The Speaker also thanked Christie for agreeing to the compromise.