Back on May 10, I put a comprehensive package of bills, 33 in all, before the Legislature to address the property tax crisis in New Jersey. The bills included a cap on property taxes, and proposals to address the concerns that municipal leaders are already well aware of—interest arbitration reform, civil service reform, pension and benefit reform, to name a few. These proposals cut at the heart of property tax and budget management issues faced by towns across the state – the astounding 69 percent rise in local spending over the last decade.
The results of that shocking local spending figure were predictable: a nearly identical and equally astounding 70 percent rise in property taxes to meet the skyrocketing spending. In some cases, this was driven by mismanagement, profligacy and a failure to plan for the rainy days while the economic sun was shining. More often, mayors and local leaders were forced into positions with ever-rising costs, driven by a broken system that fed expanding budgets. Serious, fundamental change was needed to address the crisis.
Almost immediately following the passage of the state budget in late June, I called a special and extraordinary session of the Legislature to take up my property tax proposal. It seems fundamentally wrong that the Legislature take a summer vacation while the rest of New Jersey’s families had no vacation from property taxes. To their credit, the Legislature went to work and adopted a version of my property tax cap (at 2 percent) and gave a promise to New Jerseyans to address to toolkit proposals before the cap takes effect on January 1.
Cap 2.0 is a hard cap on property taxes. It will control the raw growth in property taxes for families. But it is far from a complete solution. Without the toolkit proposals to slow the rampant growth of costs, local leaders will be put in the tough position of slowed revenue growth but mandated costs – meaning budget slashing and a reduction in the services New Jerseyans depend on. The toolkit bills are critical for the effective operations of local government and critical public safety and health services they provide.
TOOLKIT PROPOSALS TO SLOW
THE RAMPANT GROWTH OF COSTS,
LOCAL LEADERS WILL BE
PUT IN THE TOUGH POSITION
OF SLOWED REVENUE GROWTH
BUT MANDATED COSTS.
It’s three months after the passage of Cap 2.0, and little progress has been made on these measures. Rightfully, mayors and local officials have expressed concern and applied pressure to make progress. But without action by a Legislature that has been reluctant to act on many key reforms I’ve put forward, it is easy to see how the likelihood of these bills becoming law could be questioned.
As Governor, I am here to guarantee my commitment to you. I will continue to make the tool kit bills a top priority. I will continue to aggressively pressure the Legislature to move on these measures that have been stalled without justifiable cause. And, I will ensure that, in the absence of real action on these measures, the people of New Jersey understand that the consequences of a property tax cap without the accompanying tool kit measures fall squarely at the feet of a Legislature that refused to act in the best interest of the people.
We cannot let the Legislature sit idly by and refuse to act. We must continue to be partners in this effort and diligent in putting pressure on the Legislature so that there can be no further delays. The time to act is now. The facts are on our side and the case for these critical tools has already been made. All that stands between us is politics and gamesmanship, something we must overcome with continued advocacy and public pressure.
In the end, I believe that New Jerseyans, and their elected leaders, know that these are common sense solutions we have brought to Trenton. I believe that they will allow the folks they know best—their mayors, town councils, school boards and freeholders—to have the flexibility and management tools to control their costs, limit their spending and hold the line on property taxes in the long run. Now, it’s time for the Legislature to get to work.
Article published in New Jersey Municipalities, November 2010