Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage became the first big city counterweight to Newark Mayor Cory Booker this week as he declared his emphatic opposition to Gov. Chris Christie’s 2.5% property tax cap proposal.
In a letter to state legislators delivered the day before a special cap debate session in Trenton, Bollwage said the governor’s hard cap contradicts the very real-time efforts enacted on the mayor’s city by none other than the Christie administration.
“With members of his own administration enforcing mandatory tax levy increases, it is the residents of New Jersey that will be adversely impacted, resulting not in tax relief, but in increased financial burden,” wrote Bollwage, specifically referring to Department of Education Commissioner Bret Schundler re-instating local school budget cuts made by the Elizabeth City Council, which Bollwage estimates would result in an additional $170 per household.
Following voter rejection of the budget in April, the council grappled with the document. Bollwage said councilpeople identified nearly $5 million in savings, and could have reduced the tax levy from $48,673,323 to $43,727,407, but for Schundler intervening and restoring the cuts.
“Municipalities continue to do more with less and share the ‘pain,’ however services cannot be effectively provided within the constraint of the proposed cap,” the mayor wrote. “Additional mandatory costs such as the increased Board of Education 10% tax levy coupled with a stringent 2.5% Cap, only punishes municipalities for efficient fiscal management as well as their continual efforts to safeguard the health, safety, and financial well-being of its residents.
“The 2.5% Cap does not work for New Jersey’s municipalities and especially our state’s residents. This amendment will result in increased hardships and difficulty in providing the services our residents need and deserve. Rewarding institutions such as the Elizabeth Board of Education in spite of the clear rejection of the school budget by the voters, is unfair and clearly demonstrates the inequality of burden sharing throughout not only our state, but in one municipality.”
Schundler spokesman Alan Guenther told PolitickerNJ.com that Bollwage’s complaint failed to take into account a simple fact.
“The commissioner restored funds to the Elizabeth school budget because he was required to do so by state law,” Guenther said. “Under the School Funding Reform Act approved during the Corzine Administration, districts like Elizabeth that receive Educational Adequacy Aid must be funded at a certain level by their municipalities. In short, the commissioner had no choice. If he had failed to restore the funding, he would have been in violation of the law.”