New Jersey recently struck a crucial blow in what will no doubt be a lengthy battle to once and for all slay runaway property taxes.
As a prime sponsor of this historic, bipartisan effort to cap annual property tax increases at 2 percent, it was gratifying to see it signed swiftly into law.
In all fairness, this is actually the crucial second blow we have struck, one that builds upon the demonstrable success of the 4 percent cap passed by Democrats in 2007. Since this first cap was instituted, property tax increases dropped dramatically from an average of more than 7 percent annually to 3.3 percent.
That was progress, but clearly it wasn’t enough.
The new, tighter cap we just passed builds upon the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years to create a stronger law that not only places further downward pressure on New Jersey’s property taxes, but puts power in the hands of voters to decide how much their rates should increase.
We simply cannot afford to allow government to spend beyond its means while our taxpayers struggle to make ends meet. Now government at all levels will have the proper checks and balances to control spending, hold elected officials accountable and make New Jersey more affordable for those who work hard and struggle to keep their homes.
While this is a crucial step forward, now the real work begins. Besides finding ways to help local governments stay within the cap, we must address the factors that drive property taxes higher in the first place, so that we can begin to roll them back, not just limit the increases.
One of the reasons Massachusetts’s cap was so successful in its early days was because the state was very effective at targeting aid to where it was needed the most. We must heed this example and learn to maximize our assets in order to avoid exacerbating the divide between the “haves” and “have nots.”
As a former mayor of Washington Township, I know how difficult it is to manage a budget at the local level when so many factors are beyond our control, such as rising healthcare costs, unfunded state mandates and sensible reforms that haven’t received enough consideration.
So while I’m pleased other bills I have recently sponsored to reform public worker pensions and benefits received approval and also became law earlier this year, I also know we have a lot more to accomplish.
I am hopeful additional pension and benefit reform measures I have sponsored will also become law to help ease the burden on property taxpayers, and look forward to spending the summer joining my Assembly colleagues reviewing other proposals and getting them ready for thoughtful legislative action in the coming months.
Under the leadership of Speaker Oliver, 12 Assembly Democrats are spending the summer reviewing various reform proposals. I’ve been assigned two ideas that could go a long way toward easing local government costs.
One is a bill I have already sponsored and am working to refine as we speak – a plan to eliminate eligibility for state retirement systems for outside groups and associations. The other is a plan to allow furloughs by local government to save costs.
But I also am hopeful other ideas have long advocated for – such as saving money by moving the February fire district and April school elections to November, shared services reforms and sensible changes in arbitration and collective bargaining – will also turn into law in the coming months.
Without question, the budget balancing act will be all the more difficult under a 2 percent cap, but it’s the right thing to do for the taxpayers of this state.
We must end our addiction to spending.
Now it’s time to get back to work.
Paul Moriarty represents the 4th Legislative District (Camden and Gloucester counties) in the General Assembly.