Appropriations Comm. advances energy tax receipts bill

TRENTON – The battle over how energy tax receipts are collected continued today before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

A2753 would require that the payments be made directly to the municipalities by the taxpayers.  Towns have been protesting for years about the state taking control of some of the funds. The bill advanced along party lines 7-1-1.

Sponsor Assemblyman Dan Benson said this would restore balance. The treasurer would determine what utilities owe, and it would go directly to the towns.

For example, in fiscal year 2013, the amount to be apportioned to, and collected by, the municipalities would have been $1.063 billion.

This bill does not change the requirement under current law that amounts received by a municipality in excess of the amounts received in State fiscal year 2002 must be used for property tax relief.

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande questioned whether this would hurt the state budget, and Benson emphasized this would not represent a loss to the state budget because this is not state revenue to begin with.

The loss was in the tens of millions in 2008 and 2009 and has grown into the hundreds of millions since, he said.

The committee released other bills:

A3553: This bill establishes an early voting process to allow voters to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the fourth Monday before the primary election, and ending on the Sunday before the election.  A municipality holding municipal elections on the second Tuesday in May may also conduct early voting for those municipal elections. It passed 6-3 along party lines.

Allen Weston of the N.J. Association of Counties opposed the measure and pointed to a fiscal note pegging the state cost at $46.4 million in FY14, and then at $20 million in each of the next two years.

The county clerks association and the elected officials association said they were not opposed to the idea, but both pointed to problems that need to be addressed, including security and other logistics.

A3568: Requires state to pay postage for voted ballots returned by mail. It passed 6-3 along party lines.

A1830: Requires insurance coverage in the individual and small employer markets for “off-label” uses of certain drugs. It passed 8-1 with Assemblywoman Alison McHose concerned about costs and the bill’s mandates.

A2329: This bill would revise the procedures that must be followed before lands acquired by the state with Green Acres funds may be conveyed. It passed unanimously.

Under current law, the Ogden-Rooney process is required to be followed for leases for terms of 25 years or more.

The bill would have reduced this timeframe from 25 years to five years, but after consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection, they kept the term at 25 years.

The Ogden-Rooney process involves, among other things, the preparation and submission of a report identifying the reasons for the conveyance, assessing the environmental and recreational impact of it, and assessing the environmental and economic value of the lands.

Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club said when development projects occur, sometimes a developer targets open land – not because it’s ideal or suitable – but because it’s cheaper.

He said the bill addresses the problem of the state not getting appropriate value back on a piece of land. He used as an example one site that went for $105,000 per acre for preservation and next to it was a piece that went for $4,500 per acre.

A3708: Establishes pilot program requiring Attorney General to perform internal affairs functions of certain law enforcement agencies. The original bill has been amended to cover only Edison. It was released 6-2-1 along party lines.

Sponsor Assemblyman Peter Barnes III said that in his hometown of Edison reports over the last 20 years disclosed problems with internal affairs, including complaints of reports being whitewashed and stories of political retaliation.

“This is a pilot program,’’ he said.  It will last for two years, and then the Attorney General’s office will report on whether it worked or should be expanded.

Alison McHose, who abstained, questioned whether something this specific would be considered “special’’ legislation that is generally not allowed, and Barnes said the bill has been deemed constitutional and permissible.

Barnes said internal affairs fails to work in many towns the way it should.

A3692: This bill would require that crime witnesses be notified of the defendant’s release from custody. It passed unanimously.

A3544: This requires a domestic violence victim be notified when a person subject to a restraining order has been released from custody. It passed unanimously.

The bill would also provide that the victim’s location shall remain confidential and shall not appear on any documents or records to which the defendant shall have access.

A2756: This would give workers compensation benefits for life to spouses of emergency responders who die in the line of duty, including if the spouse remarries. It passed unanimously.

Appropriations Comm. advances energy tax receipts bill