If there’s one thing that Governor Christie made clear in his budget address on Tuesday, March 16th, it’s that government cannot continue to tax and spend in these trying economic times. All levels of government have to sacrifice now in order to improve the prospects of a better tomorrow.
That includes municipal governments, which are facing steep reductions in state aid. You can view the aid cuts on the DCA website. We understand these reductions won’t be easy for municipalities to absorb. Like State government (and many New Jersey families), local governments are bringing in less revenue while seeing costs go up for things like health care and energy. But if the State can cut costs, so, too, can local governments.
With that being said, we’re not going to cut and run. Rather, we’re going to give municipalities the tools they need to rise to the challenge.
So what’s in Governor Christie’s “tool kit” for local governments?
- Proposition 2.5. The constitutional amendment would impose a 2.5 percent cap on property tax increases at local levels and a 2.5 percent cap on spending increases for State government. While it might seem daunting initially, the cap would give municipalities and local public unions the opportunity to reopen multi-year contracts in order to address cost-sharing on benefits and year-over-year salary increases.
- Collective Bargaining Reform. The State Government’s Executive Branch would select arbitrators, who would be charged with taking into account the impact of union contracts on property taxes.
- Pension and Benefits Reform. The Governor’s plan would require municipal employee contributions to health benefits that equal or exceed the required contributions by State employees, among other changes.
- Civil Service Reform. Civil Service rules would change to make cost-saving local-shared service and consolidation initiatives easier to adopt, permit furloughs and allow counties and municipalities to opt out of Civil Service.
The Governor and I will be working hard to get these reform measures approved. It may be a cliché, but it’s also true — we’re all in this together. It’s my responsibility to do what I can to help municipalities avoid property tax increases and it’s a job I take seriously.