By Declan O’Scanlon
Democratic state Senate candidate Vin Gopal, in his Aug. 20 oped “Consolidate small towns,” extolled the virtues of municipal consolidation as if he were presenting a new, fresh approach to the concept. An honest reading of his own words destroys both his credibility on the property tax issue, and his paralyzing duplicity as a candidate.
Let’s concede up front that in order to solve our high property tax problem we will need consolidation and sharing of services. But that’s a very small piece of the essential reform pie.
Gopal, who is seeking to unseat incumbent Republican state Sen. Jennifer Beck in the 11th District, tries to suggest that because those of us — like Beck and me — fighting the fight to reduce property taxes haven’t yet declared victory, he might be able to do a better job. But in his own words he actually says he would make things worse — actually make it harder to consolidate or enact reforms that will reduce property taxes.
We also need to be honest with taxpayers and admit that share/merge polices alone won’t solve our property tax problem. In order to truly cut property taxes we will need to do much more. We will need another round of pension and benefits reform. We will also need to renew, and reassert our dedication to, the other property tax policies passed over the last few years that have dramatically reduced upward pressure on property taxes. Yet Gopal opposes, or has avoided taking a position on, all of these measures.
Gopal, insultingly and untruthfully, says we’ve gotten nothing done. Guess he wasn’t paying attention when we led the nation in passing unprecedented pension and health benefits reform, a substantial and innovative property tax cap and binding arbitration reform. Collectively those reforms have dramatically bent our property tax curve — and are saving taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Let’s not forget that if property taxes marched on at their then-current rate of increase — which was widely expected prior to enactment of our reforms — they would be more than 20 percent higher than they are today.
We all know we still have a long way to go. On that front too, we’re leading the charge and fighting for the next round of reforms essential to truly cutting property taxes. We have written and introduced what must be the next round of health benefits reform that will save billions of dollars a year. I have designed and begun to promote an innovative method to facilitate sharing of police services — the largest line item in most municipal budgets — that, if embraced, will save municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars more. From sick pay reform to civil service and pension reform, we continue to lead the way.
An accurate reading of Gopal’s words proves he has no plan, and no sincere commitment to reducing property taxes. On the contrary, he would harden the paralysis we’ve been battling so hard against, and foster accelerated property tax increases in exchange for support of the special interests to whom he panders.
Those special interests have blocked 99 percent of our efforts to merge/share services, opposed reforms at every opportunity and are bankrolling Gopal’s campaign to the tune of millions of dollars. That’s brainwash money, folks. We shouldn’t permit ourselves to be manipulated by such transparent tactics.
Make no mistake about it: We know exactly what we need to do to cut property taxes and fix our state’s structural deficit. Why haven’t more of these things happened? Because the Democratic majorities running the Legislature slavishly stand against the passage of policies that would permit and promote merger and sharing plans and the other major reforms I outlined above.
The election of Gopal would only strengthen the stranglehold of those majorities. Even worse, we’d be losing one of the fiercest, bravest, most outspoken taxpayer defenders in the Legislature in Beck. God willing there isn’t enough money to wash that reality from District 11 voters’ brains. We don’t need to replace Beck; we need to elect more like her.
Declan O’Scanlon is a Republican assemblyman who represents the 13th Congressional District, which includes 16 Monmouth County municipalities. He is seeking the state Senate being vacated by Sen. Joe Kyrillos.