May 4, 2010
RE: Key Municipal Issues Face Returning Legislature
In just one week, on May 10, both Houses of the Legislature will return to Trenton to begin two months of intense activity. That activity will conclude with the passage of a final State appropriations act for the Fiscal Year that begins on July 1. We wanted to highlight the following issues that will affect your municipality and your constituents.
I. State Budget Deliberations
On March 23rd, League President Mayor James Anzaldi presented testimony before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on the FY 2011 State Budget. (http://www.njslom.org/letters/anzaldi-testifies-032310.html) League 1st Vice President Mayor Chuck Chiarello presented testimony on April 19th, before the Assembly Budget Committee. (http://www.njslom.org/testimony/Chiarello-041910-Assembly-Budget-Committee.html)
Among the issues involved in the State Budget, we have commented on the severity of the Energy Tax cuts (http://www.njslom.org/letters/ml031910-energy.html); the impact of all the proposed property tax relief funding cuts (http://www.njslom.org/letters/ml031610-budget-message.html); and the Division of Local Government Services’ Local Finance Notice, which advised us that the State will reduce aid payments to those municipalities that use formula aid reductions as an add-on to the levy cap calculation. (http://www.njslom.org/letters/ml040110-budget.html) We thanked Governor Christie for his effort to provide local officials with meaningful tools to limit the, otherwise devastating, impact of the cuts. (http://www.njslom.org/letters/ml031710-budget.html) We urged the Legislature to act on binding arbitration reform, civil service reform and immediate and significant mandates relief BEFORE adopting a budget containing further drastic property tax relief funding cuts. Legislative action on the helpful items in the Governor’s ‘tool kit’ and on mandates relief cannot wait until after this budget is put to rest. (http://www.njslom.org/press-releases/pr-041910-mandates.html)
Please contact your Legislators to enlist their support for municipal priorities, as the State budget process moves toward the June 30 passage deadline. We will have more on the proposed budget in the coming weeks.
II. COAH Reform
There have been recent developments on the efforts to reform the Fair Housing Act and the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).
S-1, Abolishes COAH, Reforms Fair Housing Act. On March 22, S-1, sponsored by Senators Lesniak, Bateman and Van Drew was amended on the Senate floor. We have revised and posted our summary of S-1, including the most recent amendments at: http://www.njslom.com/letters/SCS-S-1-Analysis.pdf. This summary is a working document, and may be revised and updated as we continue our review process.
With the Senate in recess for budget hearings, S-1 will not be considered again until the Senate reconvenes. A May floor vote is expected.
Housing Opportunity Task Force Report. On March 23, the Report of the Housing Opportunity Task Force, which was created by Governor Christie’s Executive Order 12, was posted online at: http://www.state.nj.us/governor/news/reports/pdf/20100323_COAH.pdf. The League has prepared a summary of the Task Force Report, and it is posted online at: http://www.njslom.com/documents/SHO-TaskForceReport-03-24-2010.pdf
Once again, please consider this summary a working document, subject to revisions and updates as the League continues its review.
With the Legislature and the Administration both working on reform, it is clear that most parties agree on the need to fix the COAH process and reform New Jersey’s failed housing policies. The League will continue to engage both Houses of the Legislature and the Administration to assure that these proposed reforms are brought to reality, and result in a simplified, less bureaucratic and less costly housing policy.
III. Time of Decision
On April 12 and April 13, respectively, the Star-Ledger and the Atlantic City Press published editorials, both of which call on the Governor to VETO S-82/A-437. This legislation, which would eliminate the application of the time of decision in municipal land use approvals, has now passed both the State Senate and the General Assembly. The bill now awaits consideration by Governor Christie.
If you have not done so already, we recommend that you also contact the Governor’s Office to request a veto and express the concerns of your municipality. For your convenience, we have prepared a draft letter that you can edit as you see fit.
The letter is online at: http://njslom.org/letters/Veto-S-82A-A-437.doc in Word format.
You can also download as a PDF at: http://njslom.org/letters/Veto-S-82A-A-437.pdf
IV. Red Tape Review Group Final Report and Recommendation
On Monday, April 19, Mayor Chiarello and Mayor John Bencivengo of Hamilton Township, co-chair of our Mandates Relief Committee, attended the formal release of the final recommendations by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno’s Red Tape Review Group. You can access the entire report at: http://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/552010/pdf/20100419_rtr_final_report.pdf
The report is a step in the right direction and provides hope of real relief down the line. While these recommendations offer the opportunity for long term reform and relief, Mayor Bencivengo pointed out that only swift action by the Administration and the Legislature on things like the Stormwater Management mandates can provide immediate relief for our taxpayers. The League, through the Mandates Relief Committee, also has advocated for binding interest arbitration reform, civil service reform, COAH requirements relief and more.
Of particular promise, with regards to property tax relief, we welcome the recommendation to establish a permanent review group and to invite New Jersey law schools to conduct an objective study of unfunded statutory and regulatory mandates. The League, also, welcomes the consolidation of land use planning and ‘smart growth’ functions in a single agency.
In addition to Mayor Bencivengo, we also thank our Committee’s other co-chair, Mayor Anthony Persichilli of Pennington Borough and the Mayors and Administrators who testified before the Red Tape Review Group. That Committee will continue to work with all State elected and appointed officials, interested in advancing property tax relief through relief of unfunded mandates.
Please urge your Legislators to join our efforts to secure immediate and substantial mandates relief.
V. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson’s Civil Service Opt-out Proposal
Based on a bill he had introduced during the last session, we have been involved in on-going discussions with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson regarding authorization for a municipality to withdraw from the civil service system.
For years, we have pointed out to State policy-makers that the voters of a municipality can choose to place their public employees into the civil service system. However, once they make that decision, the State statute mandates that future generations of citizens are bound by it. Requirements imposed on local management by civil service rules can often increase local personnel costs and limit the municipality’s ability to create shared services. Our citizens should have the right to withdraw from Civil Service.
The Governor has indicated that civil service opt-out would be one of the tools in the tool box. And several legislator-members of the Red Tape Review Group indicated their surprise that our voters do not have the option, and their support of such a provision. While specific provisions are still being developed, we expect a new bill to be introduced shortly.
Please urge your Legislators to support Assemblyman Johnson and our civil service reform efforts.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.