The Democratic leadership of the State Legislature went along with Governor Chris Christie in capping NJ’s property tax increases at 2% last July with the understanding that they would get to work on and pass the governor’s “tool kit” which enables municipal leaders to responsibly reduce the cost of local government in September.
Rather than focusing on municipal government reform, the Democratic leadership is focusing on the Christie administrations failed “Race to the Top” application for $400 million in federal education dollars. Nothing that the Democrats discover in their “Race to the Top” circus will bring NJ the $400 million the Christie administration applied for. That $400 million is not coming, just as Frank Pallone’s $400 million to count fish is not coming.
Trenton Democrats need to put policy over politics. They can hold hearings on the Race to the Top snafu after they have passed the tool kit. They will get just as much political mileage and just as much money (none) from Race to the Top hearings held in December or January as they will from hearings held now.
Failure to pass the tool kit will lead to massive municipal layoffs and service cuts throughout New Jersey while property taxes increase by 2%. This week, just in Monmouth County, we have seen two clear examples of why the tool kit is necessary. In Belmar a mediator awarded the police department a 15% salary increase while Highlands announced that they might layoff 12 of their 53 employees, including three police officers. There will be literally hundreds of stories like this throughout the state if the legislature doesn’t pass the tool kit legislation before municipal leaders start crafting their 2011-2012 budgets.
Maybe that is what Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver want to happen. Maybe their focus is on next year’s state legislative elections and they think they have a better chance of keeping control of the legislature if New Jersey’s municipalities are in chaos next year with rising crime and garbage piling up on the streets because only the most highly paid municipal employees are still working while their former junior colleagues are collecting unemployment or moving out of state to take lower paying government jobs elsewhere.
Sweeney and Oliver wouldn’t do that, would they? Will it work if they do? I don’t think so.