In July, in an all too rare show of bipartisan cooperation in Trenton, the Legislature voted with a significant majority to pass S-29, imposing a limit of 2% on annual tax levy increases for municipalities and school districts in a move to protect New Jersey taxpayers from a tax burden that is becoming ever more unwieldy. This law will take effect January 1, 2011.
In order for this cap to work, however, without significant hardship placed on our citizens, the remaining Tool Kit measures that have been proposed by Governor Christie must be enacted.
We cannot place a strict cap on local municipal officials without providing them with the tools that will be necessary for them to live within that cap. On September 30th, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union) announced that he will introduce legislation that will allow towns to temporarily exclude the cost of public safety personnel from the new cap. That proposal only serves to reinforce the need for the Legislature to immediately begin working on the remaining Tool Kit legislation proposed by Governor Christie.
Also on September 30th, I introduced a key Tool Kit bill that addresses the issue of binding arbitration that will assist municipalities in their efforts to control the escalating costs of labor across the board. This bill mandates that all collective bargaining agreements with public employers must adhere to the 2% tax cap. Without it, there is nothing to protect the public’s interest in keeping negotiations under the mandated 2% cap. We must work with the administration, municipal elected officials, employees and unions that represent them in order to pass this critical reform.
Each day that passes without enacting the Tool Kit legislation is wasted time that only adds to the costs of operating local government that eventually gets passed on to property taxpayers. It is within Assemblyman Cryan’s control to bring the remaining Tool Kit legislation to the forefront of the Assembly’s agenda. This must be our top priority. Taxpayers want to see sustained property tax reform, and the Tool Kit bills are the answer to that call.
This is an opportunity for the State Legislature to make a genuine bipartisan effort for real change in New Jersey, and I am pleased that support does exist on both sides of the aisle. As a Republican, I fully support the statement made by Senate President Sweeney, a Democrat, that we need to “work on giving local officials a tool kit to make the cap work.” No responsible member of the Legislature could disagree.