I applaud your newspaper for publishing the “Fight Bank on Property Taxes” editorial bringing attention to New Jersey’s burdensome property tax problem. The editorial board is correct that it is the Legislature’s responsibility to address this problem and unfortunately, under its current Democratic Party leadership, it has been unwilling to do so.
As a three-term member of the Legislature, I have seen firsthand how this system operates. To make it clear to your readers, the Assembly is controlled by the party who has a majority of its members. The Democrats have controlled the Assembly since 2002. As a result, the Assembly Speaker is selected by the Democratic members and appoints the chairperson of each Assembly committee. It should be of no surprise that each of the chairpersons selected by the Speaker are also from the Democratic Party.
The chairs of those committees control which bills are posted for discussion and the Speaker determines the bills to be voted on during each voting session.
While we would all like to believe that good legislation that could have a positive impact on New Jersey’s property tax burden would receive a fair hearing in Trenton, the reality remains that only one party controls the agenda in Trenton. For example, there are nearly 80 bills that have been drafted and introduced by Republican Legislators to lighten the property tax burden on New Jersey families.
At least five of these bills have the potential to significantly reduce property taxes. There is a bill establishing a new formula for state aid to public school districts based on student enrollment (A-565), and one that eliminates retirement “bonuses” for unused sick leave for public employees (A-158). I have sponsored a bill to allow local governments to opt out of civil service and order furloughs instead of layoffs (A-159), and another Republican measure directs the non-dedicated portion of state realty transfer fee collections to municipal property tax relief (A-2333). One such bill that directly relates to the editor’s point is Assembly Concurrent Resolution 18 which was introduced by Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. This resolution calls for a special session of the Legislature to consider a long-term, holistic solution to the state’s property tax burden.
As of this writing, none of these Republican proposals have had a hearing in committee or a vote in the Assembly.
As you can see, there is no shortage of Republican ideas for property tax relief and reform currently in the Legislature. They just haven’t been discussed. What is odd is that the Democratic Party leadership vowed to make property tax relief their number one priority when the current legislative session began in January 2014. The questions must be asked of the Assembly’s current leadership why they haven’t even entertained public discussion on any of the above Republican proposals.
As your editorial suggests, it’s time for a change in Trenton. The answer, however, is not to throw everyone out. I suggest that a change in leadership is needed in order to see real property tax relief in New Jersey. I, along with my Assembly Republican colleagues, stand ready to sign the Gannett property tax pledge. More importantly, however, we have already proposed close to 80 bills to reduce property taxes for New Jersey residents.
Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco