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March 27, 2013

Full Legislature to Return in early May

The Governor’s February 26 budget address began the State budget process.   Following the Senate March 18 and the General Assembly’s March 21 voting session, the Legislature convened the “budget recess.”     Most legislative committees will not meet until early May, allowing the respective budget committees to review the Governor’s proposed budget.  

Below please find an summary and update on pending legislation, some of which may see action when the Legislature returns in May.   This document may be updated from time to time as circumstances warrant. 

I.   Property Tax Relief and Restoration of Energy Receipts

The League’s top priority for 2013 is the restoration to municipalities of funding diverted by the state from Energy Taxes intended for local use and property tax relief.   A2753, sponsored by Assembly Members Benson, DeAngelo and Jasey, stands at 2nd reading in the Assembly.     The Senate companion, S-1923, is sponsored by Senator Greenstein and referenced to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.    The League supports this legislation, which would require direct payments of energy taxes to municipalities.

A3571, sponsored by Assembly Members Singleton, Webber and Conaway, is referenced to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.   This proposal would increase distribution to municipalities from Energy Tax Receipts Property Tax Relief Fund over five years to restore municipal funding reductions and requires that this additional funding to be subtracted from municipal property tax levy.    The Senate companion, S-2558, is sponsored by Senators Van Drew and Oroho and referenced to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.  The League is currently reviewing A-3571 and S-2558.
Enactment of A-2753 and S-1923 would begin to restore energy receipts and provide some immediate property tax relief to our communities.  This legislation would assure local property taxpayers compensation for hosting transmission facilities and lines that allow gas and electric energy corporations to serve customers and conduct business in New Jersey. 
Staff contact:   Jon Moran, Sr. Legislative Analyst, jmoran@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x121

II.  Sustainable State Funding for Preservation of Open Space, Park, Farmland and Historic Sites

At the League’s Annual Business Meeting on December 5, 2012, the League adopted Resolution 2012-4, “Supporting Sustainable State Funding for Preservation and Stewardship of Open Space, Park, Farmland and Historic Sites in New Jersey.”    

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee began consideration of different approaches to achieve a sustainable state funding source for open space, farmland and historic preservation.  

The Committee took testimony, but did not act, on the following bills:

  • S813, which would impose water consumption and diversion user fees to fund open space and farmland preservation projects.    Specifically, S-813 would establish, upon public approval of a constitutional amendment (SCR-44), a water usage fee of $0.40 cents per thousand gallons of water delivered to the consumer.  The Office of Legislative Services estimates this would generate $150 million annually for open space projects.   
  • S2529,  the "Preserve New Jersey Act of 2013"; which would implement a constitutional dedication of sales tax revenue for open space, including flood prone areas, farmland, and historic preservation purposes.   Specifically, S-2529 would dedicate, upon public approval of a constitutional amendment (SCR-138) $200 million annually of New Jersey sales tax revenue for the next 30 years for open space projects.   
  • S2530, the "Green Acres, Water Supply and Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 2013," which would authorize bonds for $400 million.   Specifically, S-2530 would authorize, upon public approval, the issuance of $400 million in state bonds for open space projects. 

The League did not take a position on the above bills but did forward a letter transmitting the League Resolution, expressing support for the Legislature and the Administration to establish a sustainable state funding source to assure that future generations benefit from the natural resources of the Garden State.  

Staff contact:  Mike Cerra, mcerra@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x120

III.  S2364/A3553, Early Voting
S-2364, which would require early voting in most elections, passed the full Senate on Monday, March 18 by a vote of 24-16. .  That bill was substituted for the Assembly version of the bill, A-3553, and passed by the Assembly on Thursday, March 21 by a vote of 46-31. 

The bill would now require early voting locations to be spread throughout the county at either 3, 5, or 7 locations, depending on the number of registered voters in the county.  These locations could still be in a municipal building.  The hours of early voting would be from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.  According to the Office of Legislative Services, these bills could cost as much as $22.8 million.

We continue to oppose these bills, as they introduce a new, complex, and potentially expensive process.  Furthermore, they are unnecessary as we currently have an early voting process, Vote by Mail, which permits voters every opportunity to vote and participate in the democratic process.

Staff contact: Matt Weng, Esq, Staff Attorney, mweng@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x137

IV.  Snow Removal Trust Funds
League Resolution 2012-19, “Expand the Use of Snow Removal Trust Funds to Respond to Natural Disasters” was approved at the League Business meeting on December 5, 2012.    Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Uprenda Chivikula sponsor A-3764, which would permit counties and municipalities to use snow removal reserve funds for clearance of debris following declaration of emergency by President or Governor.   The League supports A3764, which was approved by the full Assembly on March 21 and now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

Staff contact: Lori Buckelew, Sr. Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.com, 609-695-3481x112

V.  Registration of Multi-Family Dwellings
The League opposes S2114 and its companion legislation A3317, which will preempt any municipal ordinance requiring registration for multi-family dwellings, defined by statute as 3 or more units.    A3317 was approved by an Assembly committee in December, but has not been scheduled for an Assembly vote.   S-2114 was approved by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee and was second referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.   

A 1967 law, the “Hotel and Multiple Dwelling Law,” authorized the State to require registration, in addition to local registration, of residential rental properties with three or more units. Currently, a municipality has the option to require registration for these units.  Municipalities conduct these registrations for a multitude of reasons all centering on the health, safety and welfare of their residents.  This option assists municipalities in effectively regulating the quality of housing in the community and should not be preempted by Trenton.

Staff contact:  Mike Cerra, mcerra@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x120

VI.  Amendments to OPRA/OPMA
The League opposes S2511 and S2512, which are amendments to the Open Public Meetings Act and the Open Public Records Act.  These bills were scheduled for a Senate floor vote in early February, but were held after a number of Senators raised the objections brought forth by the League, the Association of Counties and the School Boards Association, among others.     The Assembly bills (A3713 and A3712) are referenced to the Assembly State Government Committee

These proposed amendments would require that the public body allow each individual to speak for a minimum of three minutes, at the start of the public meeting, but removes the ability of the public body to limit the overall length of the public comment period.  This new requirement could disrupt public meetings, lead to filibustering and prevent the governing body from conducting business.  In addition, the bills continue to ignore the recommendations made by the Privacy Study Commission. 

Staff contact: Lori Buckelew, Sr. Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.com,   609-695-3481x112

VII.     S-2 & A-1171, Shared Services
S2 passed the State Senate on November 29.    S2 and A1171 are referenced to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.  The League opposes this legislation.

S-2, which is intended to compel municipalities to engage in shared services, passed the State Senate by a 25-9 vote on November 29.    It now joins its Assembly companion A-1171 with the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.    The bill passed the Senate with only a 4 vote margin with a number of abstentions.   

The League opposes S-2 & A-1171, most notably for the “voter penalty” provision, which allows the voters to express their will but penalizes them if their will does not comport with that of a majority of the appointed members of the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC).  

Initially S-2 removed or reduced many of the roadblocks that increase the costs of shared services – things like terminal leave pay, civil service mandates, employee tenure requirements – many of the original provisions in bill could reduce the costs and hurdles to shared services and consolidations, produce municipal savings and promote relief for our taxpayers.   However, the amendments passed by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee discourage shared services from a municipality’s perspective by continuing the hindrances imposed by Civil Service.

One of the amendments would require any non civil service municipality sharing services with civil service municipality to be brought into the civil service system.  Accordingly the civil service reform is only in the sense that it expands the civil service system.

Another of the amendments would make two municipalities subject to civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements for determining which employee stays, protects the seniority provisions.  Municipalities that are considering merging units want the flexibility to retain the best possible qualified and efficient work force or consolidation in any form doesn't make any sense.  Municipalities need the flexibility to choose which employees it will retain and how to frame their workforce.  The amendment takes that management prerogative completely out of the municipality’s hands and puts it entirely within the confines of the civil service system and collective bargaining agreements.  This will certainly have a chilling effect on this process.

The amendments also include a provision requiring mediation and arbitration of contractual provisions.  This will impede the process from moving expeditiously and may not result in cost savings.  We do not foresee a smooth merging of two collective barging agreements so we anticipate that mediation and arbitration will become the norm, thus leading to delays and additional cost.

Yet, another amendment requires LUARCC to first study municipalities that do not share services.  It is a misconception that municipalities do not share services.  Shared Services are not a new concept to municipalities.  We have been a long time supporter of shared services.  In fact, the vast majority of municipalities are already involved in sharing of services.  Many of them were initiated long before our current crisis.   So we continue to question what will be the basis for LUARCC to initiate a study once those municipalities that do not share services are completed.
Staff contact: Lori Buckelew, Sr. Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.com, 609-695-3481x112

VIII.    S-1914 & A-2975, User Fees
S-1914, which requires certain user fees for the provision of traditional municipal services to be included within the 2% municipal and county property tax levy cap, passed the State Senate in May 2012, and is assigned, along with Assembly companion A-2975, to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee.  While it passed the Senate unanimously, its fate in the Assembly is uncertain.  The League opposes S-1914 and A-2975 for the following reasons:

  • User fees are not a new budgeting tool; nor is there a statewide effort by municipalities to circumvent the 2% levy cap.  Local governments enact user fees to recapture some of the costs for services provided in their community. 
  • As part of their Memorandum of Understanding with Transitional Aid municipalities the Division of Local Government Services requires a Transitional Plan that includes  “…a plan to maximize recurring revenues, including but not limited to: updating fees, fines and penalties...”
  • User fees provide a direct connection between what people pay and what they get, and good pricing encourages efficiency by providing a ready comparison to private sector competition. And competition spurs creativity.
  • The definition of “traditional municipal services” is flawed.  The open-ended definition is confusing and leads to multiple interpretations
  •  The bill only affects municipalities ignoring the typically largest portions of the property tax bill – the schools and counties
  • The state should focus on the remaining management reforms that were part of the 2% cap that have not been addressed - Restoration of the Energy Tax Receipts, COAH Reform, Civil Service Reforms, and Accumulated Sick Leave reforms.
  • Towns are struggling to make the 2% cap workable

Staff contact: Lori Buckelew, Sr. Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.com, 609-695-3481x112

IX. S-2324, Business Personal Property (BPPT) Restoration

S-2324, sponsored by Senators Smith and Greenstein, is referenced to the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee.    A-3393, sponsored by Assemblyman Caputo, is assigned to the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.    The League of Municipalities supports S-2324 and A-3393.    

S-2324 and A-3393 would clarify the responsibility of certain telecommunications corporations to continue to remit Business Personal Property Tax (BPPT) payments to municipalities.

Based on a recent Tax Court opinion, over 100 municipalities knew they enter 2013 without Business Personal Property Tax (BPPT) revenues that will cost property taxpayers well in excess of $8 million. Unless matters change, more municipalities will lose more millions in the future.

In response to this situation, Senators Smith and Greenstein and Assemblyman Caputo have introduced S-2324 and A-3393 to provide better direction to the courts regarding the legislature’s intent to protect residential property taxpayers, when laws regarding State taxation of telecommunications providers were reformed in 1997.

The League has written the Chairs of the respective committee to which these bills are referred, requesting these bills be scheduled for hearings as soon as possible.

Staff contact:   Jon Moran, Sr. Legislative Analyst, jmoran@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x121

 

X.  S-1534/A-2586, MLUL exemptions for private colleges
S-1534 passed the State Senate in June, 2012.   S-1534 and A-2586 are now referenced to the Assembly Higher Education Committee.    The League opposes the legislation. A-2586 and S-1534, which exempt private colleges and universities from local zoning requirements, undermines and usurps local decision making and severely diminishes the role of our taxpayers.

A court case in the early 1970s established that a public college or university is exempt from local zoning.     The Court basis for this decision was its conclusion that these institutions are instrumentalities of the State.   Thus, what A-2586 and S-1534 will do is provide to certain private institutions the same status as instrumentalities of the State, such as Rutgers, the Parkway and the Turnpike.   This is a very concerning precedent and it is simply bad public policy.

Public scrutiny, involvement and complete transparency are essential to the planning process, and should not be diminished or hindered in any way. The involvement of locally elected officials, appointed officials and residents can only improve, not diminish, projects. 

Shifting the authority to private colleges and universities in the determination of land uses for education purposes further burdens taxpayers to meet the cost impacts incurred as a result of the additional, unbridled development.

While the bill itself applies only to private colleges and universities, a very dangerous precedent could be established, allowing other non-profit institutions who similarly serve a “public mission” to argue that they should also be exempt from local zoning control.  The logical extension of this could impact every community in this State.  

Staff contact:  Mike Cerra, mcerra@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x120

XI.  S2608 & A3761, Cluster Development
The League of Municipalities supports S2608, sponsored by Senators Van Drew and Oroho, and A3761, sponsored by Assemblymen Green and Clifton which clarifies the use of cluster development under the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL.)

This legislation expands the existing provisions of law that authorize cluster development and clarify a provision of law that authorizes a related planning tool, lot-size averaging.  A number of municipalities have successfully implemented planning strategies like clustering, while others have been frustrated in their efforts due to ambiguities in current law.  Thus, this bill is a permissive tool for municipalities to support good planning, preserving open space and farmland while focusing development near existing infrastructure. 

Both bills were released by Committees in March, stand at 2nd reading in their respective Houses and are poised for floor votes.

Staff contact:  Mike Cerra, mcerra@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x120

XII.     S2477 & A3615, Codifies protections set forth in certain case law and limits use of eminent domain under the "Local Redevelopment and Housing Law."

The League of Municipalities supports S-2477, sponsored by Senators Van Drew and Rice and companion legislation A2315, sponsored by Assembly members Coutinho, Bucco ad Munoz.   Specifically this legislation codifies recent case law on redevelopment and eminent domain.  The bill also authorizes municipalities that intend to implement redevelopment initiatives without using eminent domain to do so but to still take advantage of the other tools available under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. 

The long-term effects of recent cases involving redevelopment and eminent domain, coupled with the recession inhibited redevelopment throughout the State.    Essentially, this legislation allows a local government to designate at the beginning of the process that no property would be subject to eminent domain while retaining all the other tools under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.  These changes should provide a significant boost for redevelopment throughout the state.

S2477 was approved by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee and then referenced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.    A3615 awaits a vote by the full Assembly.  

Staff contact:  Mike Cerra, mcerra@njslom.com, 609-695-3481 x120

 

 

 

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