BY TOM HESTER SR.
The New Jersey League of Municipalities Monday announced it wants to see other segments of Gov. Chris Christie' 33-bill package that is designed to control government spending acted upon before his proposal to limit property tax hikes and state spending increases to 2.5 percent.
The League declared it will support the 2.5 percent cap "if and only if it is amended, and moved as the final piece, not the centerpiece,'' of property tax relief initiatives.
"On Friday, we made the Legislature's leadership aware of this position‘' Clifton Mayor Jim Anzaldi , the League president, said, ‘'We are gratified by the fact that Senator Sweeney's alternate cap proposal appears to address a few of the League's concerns. But before any cap proposal advances, state policy makers need to advance management reforms and mandates relief initiatives that will allow municipalities to continue to deliver vital services and programs to their citizens and businesses."Our property taxpayers deserve to see action on meaningful reforms,'' Anzaldi said. "And they need to see it now. There is a danger that the governor's constitutional cap question could be advanced to the voters, prior to Legislative action on the other vital reforms. Likewise, the Senate president's statutory proposal could be enacted, while all other meaningful reforms remain mired in the Legislature."
"It is imperative for other toolkit and mandates reform bills to be on the Governor's desk, before the Legislature votes to advance the proposed caps," Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello, the League's first vice president, said.
"We note that in the proposed cap on some state spending (ACR-130/SCR-103), the state intends to allow itself much greater flexibility than it would allow local officials," Anzaldi said. "The cap should affect all levels of government equally. The state's ability to exceed the cap by a two-thirds vote of both houses should be mirrored by a two-thirds vote requirement of the municipal body at the local level."
"We are committed to working with the Legislature and the administration toward levy cap reform," Chiarello said, "so long as certain considerations are satisfactorily addressed. These would include statutory reforms relating to binding arbitration, civil service, public employee pensions and benefits, disciplinary procedures, school and special district elections and mandates relief. These must be enacted before the voters are asked to approve the Constitutional caps or the Legislature advances new statutory caps."
The League's position was outlined after Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker Monday endorsed Republican Chirstie's proposed 2.5 percent cap. The governor's office said Booker joined 206 other Democratic and Republican mayors in endorsing the proposal.
"For far too long, our state's ever growing property taxes have plagued New Jersey families, driving them from their homes and communities or out of the state altogether," Booker said at a press conference in Newark where he was joined by Christie. "The property tax problem is at the center of New Jersey's affordability crisis and the people of this state are calling for their leaders to join them in pursuing – and finally enacting – a real remedy. Governor Christie, with his clear focus and determined drive, is putting meaningful and potent property tax relief within reach.
"I am proud to join the bipartisan and growing list of state and municipal leaders who are advocating for deep and durable reform – reform that stitches a 2.5% property tax cap into the fabric of our state while providing a critical toolkit capable of preventing key municipal costs from ballooning,'' Booker added. "This is a moment for all of us, Republican and Democrat, state and city, executive branch and legislative branch, to listen to the people of our state and get the job done on this critical issue."
Booker's endorsement came the same day Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) introduced legislation that would cap property taxes at 2.9 percent, a figure he called more realistic. Currently, the cap is 4 percent.
Christie welcomed Booker's endorsement of his version of a cap.
"Even as we face extraordinarily difficult times together as a state and a people, elected officials at every level must show the leadership and discipline expected of us from the voters who demanded us to bring real relief and reform," Christie said. "Mayor Booker is a dynamic leader who is bringing his leadership to bear every day to address his city's most pressing issues.''
On May 10th, Christie outlined a 33-bill package to believes would solve New Jersey's property tax crisis and control spending at every level of government. The centerpiece of the plan is a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases.
Christie wants to see the Legislature approve his version of a cap before June 30 in order to meet the deadline for the bill to be moved to the floor and approved for placement on the ballot and consideration by the voters in November.