ARBITRATION REFORM BILL UNVEILED

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver on Thursday unveiled new property tax reform legislation that would revise the state’s arbitration system by requiring the emphasis be placed on protecting taxpayers.

Among its provisions, the arbitration bill would:

– Establish “last offer” as the terminal procedure for resolving contractual impasses between public employers and their police and fire departments, under which each side would present their final offer, with the arbitrator selecting one as the final agreement. This form of arbitration is generally viewed as forcing both sides in a dispute to be more realistic in their proposals and less likely to freeze negotiations prior to the arbitration stage.

– Make the new two-percent property tax levy cap a key item for consideration by an arbitrator when making decisions.

– Require arbitrator decisions to be accompanied by a written report explaining in detail how each of the statutory criteria played into their determination of the final award. Such report shall certify that the arbitrator took the local levy cap into account in making the award.

– Change the process for selecting an arbitrator for interest arbitration to ensure a more varied and impartial group of arbitrators makes decisions.

– Change the process by which judgments are appealed.

– Require arbitrators to meet stringent professional responsibility, impartiality and ethics and guidelines.

The reform would be a sea change from the current arbitration rules, in which contractual impasses are resolved through conventional arbitration, and where arbitrators have broad authority to freely construct final awards that can include elements of each parties’ proposals and do not explicitly need to take property tax limitations into consideration.

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