Legislators are going to legislate. That’s what they do. Bills will be introduced to address problems brought to their attention by constituents, by the Press and by interest groups that may have supported them in the last election or that might support them in the next. Some of those bills will become laws.
Many of those laws will influence your ability to deliver vital municipal services effectively, efficiently and economically. Some of those may make it easier to do so—others may make it more difficult.
Consider the caps that limit your budgetary flexibility.
In 1976, New Jersey put the proceeds from the new income tax into the Property Tax Relief Fund. Most of the revenue went, and continues to go, to fund public education. Some came back to municipalities, in the form of Revenue Sharing. To ensure those revenues were used to defray the property tax burden, they imposed the cap on municipal expenditures. The expenditure cap would prevent local officials from using the new money for new services and programs, thus providing no property tax relief. Those legislators saw the relationship between revenue needed to provide services and the services needed to enhance the quality of life.
Fast forward to 2006. Having promised property tax relief, a Special Session of the Legislature chose to ignore the revenue—expenditure balance and to simply impose a new cap on the tax levy. The imbalance of this approach became quickly apparent. Absent an alternative funding source or relief from expensive state mandates, municipalities find it increasingly difficult maintain the vital quality of life services that made New Jersey municipalities attractive places to live, visit and start businesses.
And absent state attention to the big municipal budget picture, things will only get worse.
Your legislators will listen to your concerns. We do our best to let them know how their actions will effect municipal government, just as we do our best to let you know what they are up to in Trenton. But a letter, a phone call, an e-mail or a visit from you can do more than we ever could.
Please take the time to read the special Advocacy Guide in this month’s issue. And please get involved in the program, as much as your time allows. It’s a short month, but without your help, this could turn into another long year.
Editorial from New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 2, February 2010