Democrats punt on property tax reform
Trenton, NJ- Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, Jr. invoked a parliamentary rule on the floor of the Assembly on Thursday to force a vote on his bill that would remove the sunset provision on the arbitration cap of police and fireman salaries.
The arbitration cap was institution as part of the 2010 landmark property tax reform legislation that capped New Jersey property tax growth at 2% per year. The initial cap expired in 2014 and was renewed in 2014 with a sunset provision for the end of this year. O’Scanlon’s bill, A-2123,would make the 2% arbitration cap permanent.
The Democratic majority in the Assembly, including Monmouth County’s Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, voted against O’Scanlon’s motion to remove the bill from committee for a vote by the full Assembly.
“I serve on the arbitration task force. I helped author the reports and know the data inside and out. The bottom line is that the cap works and is an essential tool for municipalities to keep expenses, and property taxes, within the 2% cap. Every report has said so,” said O’Scanlon. “Public salaries are the biggest costs in local budgets. Basic math tells us that if we let the arbitration cap lapse pay-raises will increase dramatically resulting in one of two outcomes: skyrocketing property taxes or draconian cuts to services municipalities provide. There is no other option. We don’t need to wait for any report to confirm this.”
The Democrats justification for not holding hearings on the bill, or allowing a full vote in the Assembly, is that they are waiting for a report by a special commission. The commission’s report is due on December 31…the same day that the arbitration cap will expire.
This landmark, bipartisan reform, together with the state’s 2 percent cap on property taxes and the pension and health benefits reforms of 2011 have resulted in the slowest rate of property tax growth in 25 years,” said O’Scanlon, the Republican budget officer. “The arbitration award cap is one of the most important reforms passed to control property taxes.”
Before the cap was extended in 2014, the League of Municipalities said it was their number one priority. Local officials called it the most important cost-saving measure passed. If the legislature fails to act in the next few months towns will have to cut services, lay-off employees and/or increase already nation-high property taxes.
“Property tax increases in this state are a vicious cycle that only this legislature can stop,” continued O’Scanlon. “We have to come together to protect our already-overburdened taxpayers by making the two percent arbitration award cap permanent. It should be noted that this isn’t a hard salary cap. If municipal officials and local taxpayers want to increase the salaries of our dedicated police and firefighters they can chose to do so at any time. This cap simply prevents the state from coming in and forcing salary increases that taxpayers can’t afford.
“The median income in New Jersey is only $72,222, more than $1,300 lower than 2010. Average police and fire salaries increased approximately 15 percent during that same time period – and that’s with the cap in place. If the cap hadn’t been in place it’s likely that salaries would have increased by 3 to 4 times that rate. You don’t need to be a mathematician to understand that that would be catastrophic to municipal budgets. Taxpayers, one way or the other, would suffer that burden.”