Zimmer leans on legislative leadership to post Christie property tax reforms

Another release from the office of Gov. Chris Christie this afternoon featured another prominent quote from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who has become Christie’s go-to urban Democrat to help sell the governor’s property tax cap plan. 

“Mayors are on the front line of the property tax crisis every day and witness the devastating impact the highest-in-the-nation property taxes have had on families and businesses in the Garden State,” said Zimmer, before pointing a finger at the legislative leadership of her own party and telling them to get to work.  

“Today we are demanding that Speaker Oliver and Senate President Sweeney post this legislation for a vote before going on summer vacation, and thereby act to allow the people to cement property tax relief in our State Constitution,” the mayor said. “Along with Governor Christie’s tool kit, a firm cap on property taxes engrained in our constitution will give our state’s families the relief they need and local government the ability to finally deliver services at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.”

Now, in a special election environment in which the mayor’s old 4th Ward council seat is at stake, the question is whether her political opponents will turn Zimmer’s zeal for Christie’s cap into evidence of her crossover to the dark side in one of the state’s most Democratic towns – home to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken)..

The political strategist behind Zimmer’s spirited if ultimately unsuccessful 2009 run for mayor who assumed her seat after Zimmer took the oath of office following Mayor Peter Cammarano’s epic meltdown, Councilman Michael Lenz doesn’t doubt he’ll be ducking his opponent’s branding efforts to turn him into a Republican, but he makes no apologies for Zimmer’s weekly or biweekly Christie cravings.

“Hoboken has been an example of a municipal government out of control,” said Lenz, whose chief rival, Tim Occhipinti, kicked off his campaign last week. 

“Mayor Zimmer is bringing the city back into control and is looking for help wherever she can find it,” Lenz explained. “To the extent that Gov. Christie wants to empower mayors and councils to help their cities, his help is welcome and Mayor Zimmer is welcoming him.

Lenz conceded that there are several pieces to the governor’s reform package.

“We’ll see how they all play out, but as one example – it’s very difficult to balance a budget when uniformed labor costs are not under the control of a municpality; arbitration reform is key step, and Christie’s supporting it,” said the councilman. “If we have to go to binding arbitration and get locked in on contractural increases, what we have now doesn’t allow government to propoerly manage its own finances. It hasn’t been a level playing field.”

Contacted for comment, Occhipinti refrained from trying to brand Lenz a Republican, but griped about the mayor’s eagerness to fasten herself – and by extension Lenz – to what he says are the confining designs of the GOP governor. 

“Fiscal responsibility is not a partisan issue,” said the challenger. “It’s something that the entire Hoboken administration and council need to get used to, cap or no.  Just like with the state takeover that Zimmer also supported, Dawn Zimmer and Michael Lenz are once again saying, ‘We don’t know how to fix this, somebody else please mandate a solution so it’s out of our hands.’  They promised us a 25% tax cut last year, but one of Lenz’ first actions after taking office was to admit that this was never a realistic possibility.  I’m not entirely comfortable that these same people have a realistic plan of how they will operate within these very strict budgetary guidelines that they seek to impose on themselves.

“The combination of handcuffing Hoboken’s financial freedom with this cap, continued spending by the current administration, and lack of long-term planning will ultimately lead to a budgetary nightmare which may result in massive municipal layoffs and other unanticipated cuts, causing a significant decrease in public safety, quality of life services, and vital infrastructure upgrades.”   

Zimmer leans on legislative leadership to post Christie property tax reforms