Combative morning budget session produces agreement to work on cap all summer

A day after Gov. Chris Christie told lawmakers to get to work, senate members of the Budget Committee this morning agreed to come up with a list of recommendations regarding the best statutory property tax cap and proposals for managing healthcare and other government costs.

Budget Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo’s (D-Wood-Ridge) characterization of the governor as theatrical prompted a boil-over with state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove). But senators ultimately agreed to meet once or twice per week through the summer in an effort to identify the root causes of New Jersey’s property tax problem and their solutions.

In a joint address to the legislature on Thursday, Christie backed down from his desired consitutional cap of 2.5% and suggested a 2.5% statutory compromise.

Sarlo and other Democrats throughout the proccess have objected to Christie’s chastising tone. They point to the efforts of Gov. Jon Corzine to drive the property tax cap from seven to four percent, resulting in an annual local property tax hike of 3.3%, or the right downward direction.

“We have a track record of working with the other party on this issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), former chair of the budget committee.

Despite the governor’s efforts at a property tax compromise this week, Buono agrees with Sarlo that the governor has been too dismissive of legislators’ past effort and too combative in his approach to the legislature. Moreover, he acts as though his actions are radically different from the past. Buono said that while she gives Christie “a little credit,” she herself held up the budget committee in years past until the legislature confronted property tax relief.

O’Toole defended Christie’s tactics.

“If Chris Christie believes this is the crisis of the day, stop being partisan,” he said. “The only way the legislature gets something done is if you hold a guillotine over its head. No one was talking about caps 2.5 or 2.9 percent a few months ago.”

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), a member of the budget committee and one of four Democrats earlier this week who voted for the governor’s $29.4 billion budget, said, “I found the meeting today very promising. Everybody understands at the end of the day that we are all committed to lowering property taxes.”

Late on Friday, Sarlo issued a statement announcing that the budget committee would meet again at 10 a.m. on July 8th.

“Today’s committee work session set us on a path for a serious and in-depth review of the proposed property tax cap and the other items in the ‘tool kit’ that local officials will be able to draw from to control property taxes,” the budget chairman said. “I would like to thank my Republican colleagues for not only agreeing to work with us throughout the summer, but also for suggesting additional topics that the committee can look into over the coming weeks.”

Sarlo said he “anticipates having a complete hearing schedule with associated topics for discussion for release when the committee convenes on Thursday.”

Combative morning budget session produces agreement to work on cap all summer