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From Mandates to COAH

New Senate President
Stephen Sweeney Answers Our Questions

Stephen Sweeney

You are known to be a strong proponent for regionalization of municipal services. Before proceeding with the Gloucester County pilot program for county-wide assessing, you gained the support of Gloucester County’s Mayors. With that pilot program set to begin, will you support any legislation that could mandate transfer of any local services to the county, or, will you continue to favor local discretion?

I will look at each bill on a case-by-case basis, with the ultimate goal being provision of government services in a more efficient manner. Implementation of the county assessors program will not weigh into my decision on other bills related to efficient provision of services in this or any other county. We owe it to the taxpayers to consider all options.

State mandates force local budget makers to address a laundry list of state priorities before, and sometimes at the expense of, programs and services designed to address local needs and concerns. Will you support legislation to relax or eliminate state mandates?

Each mandate must be reviewed individually to determine if it should be maintained, relaxed or eliminated. Certainly, I am supportive of the “State Mandate—State Pay” provision in the Constitution and will use that to guide my decisions on legislation.

Will you support legislation to address affordable housing decisions made by both COAH and, most recently in the Eastampton case, by the courts?

Clearly there are remaining issues with affordable housing requirements in New Jersey. I hope to continue to work with fellow legislators on solutions, while abiding by our constitutional obligations under the Mount Laurel decisions. Senator Lesniak has taken up the charge in this area, and I will continue to look to his leadership.

Public employee pension and benefit costs continue to mount. How will the Legislature deal with this issue in 2010 and beyond?

I share your concern about the rising costs of pension and health benefits for both state and local governments, as well as the health of the state pension fund. It is my hope that the Legislature will continue to address these issues and that unions representing government employees will work together with us and the Christie administration on practical solutions. Any changes must be made in a collaborative manner to have a meaningful impact.

Binding arbitration of police and fire contract disputes continues to drive up local personnel costs, both directly and indirectly. Will you support binding arbitration repeal or reform?

I would need to review specific legislation on this topic to determine whether I would support or oppose it.

How can the state assist municipalities, particularly our centers and urban areas, in redevelopment efforts?

The Legislature has adopted strong measures recently to assist redevelopment efforts. Most notably, the “New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009,” spearheaded by Senator Lesniak, expanded a number of tax credits, allows for tax increment financing, and suspended the 2.5 percent affordable housing fee. The law I sponsored with Senator Smith to allow for “licensed site remediation professionals” will help to ensure more expeditious DEP permit approvals. The “Permit Extension Act of 2008” will also help to ensure that more projects are completed during this difficult economic period.

Do you support a citizen’s convention to address both property taxes and government spending?

Yes, I remain supportive of a “property tax convention,” but that does not obviate the Legislature’s responsibility in this area.

Regional Bargaining is the collaboration of local governments during the contract negotiation process with unions. Do you support regional bargaining for Police and Fire contracts?

I would need to review any specific proposal before indicating my position.

Telecommunications tax reform could be on the lame duck agenda. Would you support an extension of the sales tax to telecommunications services, if the proceeds are dedicated to municipal property tax relief? How can the legislation be structured to prevent state skims of the money, or the diversion of the funding to other state priorities?

I am concerned about the imposition of the sales tax on TV and other telecommunications products to which the tax is currently not applied. I also am concerned about the potential loss of Business Personal Property Tax revenue to my municipalities. Any proposal that results in a net loss for any of the municipalities I represent is unacceptable.

There is pending legislation that would address the courts’ invalidation of ordinances imposing impact fees to proportionally fund off-site improvements necessitated by new development. (S-863/A-790) Will you support this legislation?

This legislation was introduced in this session at the beginning of 2008 and has not seen any movement since. If this legislation receives a hearing in this or the next session, I will listen intently to both sides on this issue before formulating my position.

This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 2, February 2010

 

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