Greenwald and Lampitt Leading on “Toolkit” Property Tax Reforms (Oct. '10 Constituent Newsletter)

Several months ago, the Legislature passed a historic, bipartisan measure to rein in the out-of-control growth in property taxes. This 2 percent property tax cap, supported by Senator Beach, Assemblyman Greenwald, and Assemblywoman Lampitt, is a step in the right direction to reducing property taxes in New Jersey. However, this important work is not over.

Now that towns and local governments must live within this cap on property tax increases, they must be given the ability to truly cut the local spending that drives property taxes. Governor Christie has proposed several such measures, described as part of his “toolkit,” and Assemblyman Greenwald and Assemblywoman Lampitt are taking the lead in delivering a number of these critically-needed property tax reform measures.

One of the major local costs that causes towns to raise property taxes are massive sick leave payouts. As has been detailed in countless recent news articles, a handful of public workers in some towns have amassed so much unused sick time that taxpayers are left on the hook for six-figure payouts when those employees retire. Assemblywoman Lampitt believes sick time should be used for sickness, not for massive, taxpayer-funded “golden parachutes,” and that’s why she has introduced a bill to crack down on this egregious spending.

Current law caps sick leave payouts for state workers at $15,000, with local and school employees exempt from this restriction. Assemblywoman Lampitt’s bill would extend a sick leave cap to all public workers, including local and school employees. This bill, which was approved by an Assembly committee this week, would also remove the “grandfather clause” in current law—applying a cap on sick leave to all public employees, not just the newly-hired.

Another major contributor to skyrocketing property taxes is contract arbitration. Under current state law, contract negotiations between local governments and employees that have reached an impasse are referred to an arbitrator. The broad discretion of these arbitrators, combined with the fact that their decisions are binding, has tied the hands of many local officials. The result in some cases, as we have seen across New Jersey, has been some employees receiving annual raises of 4 or 5 percent—with no regard to a town’s fiscal position or staggeringly high unemployment. With daily reports of layoffs and residents struggling to find jobs, local governments need the tools to negotiate more realistic contracts.

Working in a bipartisan fashion, Assemblyman Greenwald has taken the lead to deliver real arbitration reform. His legislation would require arbitrators to seriously consider the new 2 percent property tax cap when making contract decisions. It would also allow each side of a negotiation to present a “fair and final” offer—forcing both sides to come to the table, with the final contract to be selected by the arbitrator. By leveling the playing field and requiring arbitrators to respect property taxpayers and financial realities, a major driver of property tax increases will be reformed. Assemblyman Greenwald has worked throughout the week with members of both parties and with the Governor’s office on this issue, and he will continue those negotiations in the coming days to deliver real reform.

Another bill sponsored by Assemblyman Greenwald would streamline the state’s sample ballot process, saving money. Under this reform, one sample ballot would be delivered to each household where one resident is registered to vote, rather than the duplicative, costly process of sending one sample ballot to each voter in a given house. Assemblyman Greenwald, who has championed this measure for many years before Governor Christie included it in his “toolkit,” was pleased to see this legislation approved by an Assembly committee.

Capping sick leave and reforming the arbitration process are badly-needed measures in the fight to reduce property taxes. These “toolkit” measures sponsored by Assemblyman Greenwald and Assemblywoman Lampitt are significant steps in this direction. Assemblyman Greenwald and Assemblywoman Lampitt will continue the fight to deliver real property tax relief to middle class families.

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