Senate committee releases Sweeney’s user fee ban bill

TRENTON – Senate Budget Committee members wasted little time on releasing three pieces of legislation today during the committee’s afternoon hearing.

The committee released S1121 with little discussion and no testimony. The bill changes unemployment insurance compensation rates for employers, excluding governmental entities.

Members also voted to release Senate President Steve Sweeney’s bill, S1914, that clamps down on municipalities attempting to circumvent the state’s 2 percent property tax cap by installing “user fees” for certain services.

Lawmakers spent a short time discussing the definition of the term “traditional municipal service,” but wasted little time in wrapping up their talks and turning to the short list of people who signed up ahead of the meeting to give testimony.

Mayor Vincent Barrella, of Point Pleasant Beach, testified in opposition to the legislation, saying “there are good taxes, there are good fees, and there are bad taxes and there are bad fees.”

“It’s essential that we maintain some flexibility,” Barrella said.

Barrella said his borough is forced to hire extra police as result of combating “Jersey Shore mentality” behavior that unfortunately, he said, hits his area in the summer tourism months. “Jersey Shore mentality” referred to the seasonal spikes in disorderly persons crimes, he said.

The extra law enforcement is hired seasonally and he said the borough wants to have the option to utilize fees to help pay for those officers.

“My residents can’t be paying the bills for the service that the tourist (industry) requires,” he said, explaining the borough would like to have greater flexibility in deciding how to pay for the extra police in the summer.

Senate lawmakers said if the mayor’s borough would be permitted to institute a user fee to pay for additional police it would be considered a “special recreational activity” under the current bill language.

Despite the exception, Barrella said he was still opposed to the bill on principle.

Lawmakers took a brief recess to clarify some concerns with the bill with the Office of Legislative Services. After a 10-minute recess, lawmakers released Sweeney’s bill from committee.

The committee also released S1928, which would remove gift cards from the ranks of property that is subject to the escheat laws, as well as eradicating the mandate over collecting information about purchasers.

Other bills originally slated to be on the agenda, including Sweeney’s tax credit proposal and the committee chairman’s energy tax bill, were pulled from the agenda the prior day.

Senate committee releases Sweeney’s user fee ban bill