BY MICHAEL HALFACRE
On Monday, October 25th, I went to Trenton to attend an event organized by the New Jersey Conference of Mayors, which is the largest and oldest Mayor’s organization in the United States. The purpose of the event was to meet with Governor Christie, the Assembly Republicans and the Assembly Democrats to urge the passage of a key provision of the Governor’s “Tool Kit” reforms: capping interest arbitration awards to the 2% property tax cap passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor last Summer.
Many of you may remember that when both Republicans and Democrats passed the Governor’s budget, there was much hoopla about the 2% property tax cap, and there was an emphasis on the need for passage of the “Tool Kit” reforms that would enable local governments to manage the cap. While the Tool Kit is composed of many bills, there is almost universal agreement among mayors that arbitration reform that mirrors the cap is vital.
There is currently pending before the Legislature two versions of arbitration reform. In one version, A-3283, arbitrators, mediators or fact finders would be prevented from recommending or awarding any settlement that would exceed by more than 2% the total economic impact on the public employer.
The other version, A-3393 has already been reported out of Committee, and may go before the full Assembly any day. This version does not require an Arbitrator to adhere to the 2% cap, rather, it simply adds the cap to a list of nine criteria that should be considered by the Arbitrator in making a decision.
For obvious reasons, the need for a hard cap on arbitration awards is vital to the success of the hard cap on property taxes. To provide otherwise will slowly and inexorably eat away at all governmental functions until all that are left are those functions that are carried out by collective bargaining unit employees. Eventually even those “protected” employees will be downsized to feed the public sector union monster.
The group from the New Jersey Conference of Mayors was made up of mayors from both sides of the aisle. Republicans, Democrats, large towns and small, all who have engaged in the municipal budget process recognize the need for this reform. The need for arbitration reform is not a partisan issue, it is an issue of economic and financial necessity.
The Governor graciously met with the approximately 35 mayors who attended. He was introduced by David DelVecchio, Democrat Mayor of Lambertville. The Governor gave us as much time as we needed, and answered questions. Governor Christie emphasized the need for a hard cap on arbitration awards, and asked us to take his message to the Assembly.
The group of Mayors then walked to the Assembly Republican caucus room, where virtually every Republican member of the Assembly listened as Mayor Arnone, Republican of Neptune City and Mayor Tarantolo, Democrat of Eatontown, gave their pleas for enactment and reform. The Assembly Republicans asked their own questions, and agreed that real reform meant a hard cap on arbitration awards.
The overriding message brought to Trenton by the Mayors is that we have done almost all we can on our own. We have shared services, some have laid off employees, some have laid off police, some have cut services drastically. We have, often, done all we can do to stabilize property taxes in our towns. What we need now is help from Trenton. For too long, Trenton has helped itself, and not given the State’s municipalities the tools needed to stop the rise of property taxes. Now there is an opportunity to pass meaningful reform, and we can not let it slip away.
After leaving the Assembly Republican Caucus room, we went across the hallway to meet with the Assembly Democrats in their caucus room.
The Assembly Democrats did not let our bipartisan group of Mayors in to speak with them. An anonymous staffer came out and said that the Assembly Democrats would be in caucus for at least another hour, and then the Assembly would go into session. Assembly Speaker Oliver would not come out to speak to us, nor would any other Assembly Democrat.
Our bipartisan group of mayors, organized by the bipartisan New Jersey Conference of Mayors, were left out in the cold by the Assembly Democrats.
When people ask me why the Great State of New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the Country, I now have yet another first-hand account: Because the Assembly Democrats don’t care about your property taxes.
MICHAEL HALFACRE IS THE MAYOR OF FAIR HAVEN