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August 30, 2010

LOCAL PUBLIC SERVANTS STILL WAITING FOR THE TOOLS

By: Hon. James Anzaldi, President, NJ League of Municipalities and Mayor, Clifton

The strict hard cap passed by the Legislature received approval with the promise of a wide ranging tool kit to help local governments to achieve the new cap. There is great concern on the part of municipalities throughout the State that the tool kit package is moving at a snail’s pace.

Then, on August 26, the Administration announced a laundry list of ‘best practices’ that would be used to determine whether the State could punish municipalities by withholding a part of the revenue replacement funding on which their current-year budgets depend. And we learned that this initiative is part of the ‘toolkit,’ which is supposed to help municipalities balance their budgets.

It has now been seven weeks since the Governor signed the new 2% levy cap into law. It is imperative that the ‘toolkit’ management reforms and mandates relief be passed to make an attempt to make the cap workable. As we feared, there is a danger that inertia has set in. Agreement on management reforms and mandates relief has NOT been reached.

While it is important that the necessary reforms and mandates relief bills be done right, the tempo really needs to pick up. And if that doesn’t change, citizens who depend on high quality local government services will be left out in the cold in 2011.

The longer we wait for reforms and relief, the greater the likelihood that other matters will distract State level policy makers and divert their attention away from these needs.

All around the State, responsible municipal officials have begun planning their 2011 budgets. At this point, those plans MUST account for the new cap. At this point, those plans must be based on the assumption that meaningful management reforms and mandates relief initiatives will NOT be in place. At this point, those plans must also be based on the further assumption that next year’s State budget will not provide statutorily required revenue replacement funding.

Mayors, Governing Bodies and Administrators will do whatever they can to prevent negative outcomes. Under current assumptions we should anticipate service cuts, lay-offs and furloughs, depleting service to taxpayers around the State.

These consequences may be unavoidable in 2011. Going forward, the situation can only improve IF serious reforms are enacted and unfunded mandates are relieved or repealed. Attention to the Binding Interest Arbitration mandate should top the list of State priorities for meaningful property tax relief.

All involved need to put more energy into ‘toolkit’ advocacy. And take decisive action quickly.

      

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