So…Home Rule May Not Be Off Limits

New Jersey voters appear more prepared than ever to accept and in fact embrace significant changes in the way government at every level is structured and operates–IF it significantly reduces their property taxes. Home rule¦watch out! The latest Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll revealed some fascinating statistics on how New Jersey residents feel about home rule, consolidation of services and the cutting back of government services and programs. Get this: Seventy-nine percent of New Jersey residents said they would be somewhat willing to share municipal services like public works and maintenance with a neighboring town. Even emergency services like fire and police protection was on the table with New Jersey residents. Seven out of ten said they would be open to the idea and four in ten said they would be “very willing” to share police and fire services if in fact it produces a significant reduction in property taxes. Who knew? I had always believed that police and fire services would be off limits for most citizens. If this poll is correct, there may be a narrow window of opportunity to act. When I say act, I don’t simply mean encouraging or supporting mergers or consolidation of services. I’m talking about mandating that these things take place. According to the Monmouth University poll Institute director Patrick Murray, “There is no better time than right now to do this. It appears that many residents will entertain the idea of forced consolidation because we are at a breaking point when it comes to property taxes.” Some additional numbers to consider–When it comes to merging school districts (New Jersey has 611 of them), which the educational establishment has been dead set against, the Monmouth University poll found that 32 percent of residents would be very willing to combine their school districts with a neighboring district and nearly 60 percent would be somewhat willing to do this. Think about what that means. For decades, politicians have argued that New Jersey residents were so in love with the idea of their neighborhood school as well as their own individual school district. That has produced way too many schools and an obscene number of school administrators, two big contributors to our skyrocketing property taxes. Again, if the Monmouth University poll is correct, many citizens are saying they will forego the luxury of having their own neighborhood school and their own school district if it means a significant reduction in property taxes. The educational establishment must be freaking out. Time out. What exactly does a significant reduction in property taxes mean? According to the new poll, if it is not between 10 and 15 percent, you can forget it. It’s got to make a real dent. It’s got to make a difference in people’s pockets or they won„t see it as worth it to be open minded about allowing home rule to be messed with. The bottom line? Legislators meeting in Trenton for this so-called “special session” have no excuse any more. They can’t say they are not able to take on home rule and force municipal mergers, consolidations and shared service agreements because the public won’t allow it. If the legislature and the governor’s office fail in this regard, they have no one to blame but themselves. That doesn’t mean it is going to be easy and it doesn’t mean that politicians aren’t going to have to be leaders and public educators who go out and explain to their constituencies why this is necessary and what it is going to mean. However, taking on home rule may not be as difficult as was originally thought. I guess that’s one of the benefits of the property tax problem becoming so bad and out of control that many citizens are now saying “we’re mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore.” Further, whatever it is going to take to get my property tax down, I’m willing to consider it. That’s a big thing in New Jersey where for too long all of us, including elected officials, special interest groups, and citizens have become so entrenched and complacent that we’ve come to accept the status quo. The time to act is now. The window of opportunity may be closing fast. We’re all holding our breath to see what happens.

So…Home Rule May Not Be Off Limits