Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky, like many local officials in New Jersey, is unhappy with the pace of the state Legislature - and he has a right to be.
Pikolycky supported the 2 percent property-tax cap for local governments that was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Christie in July. Lawmakers were expected to spend the summer working on 32 accompanying property-tax reform proposals - the so-called "tool kit" that would give local officials the tools they need to curb costs and make the tax cap a more realistic law.
But summer has faded. Labor Day has passed. And just a little more than half of those proposals have even been introduced; fewer still have come up for hearings or discussion.
That seeming hesitancy to tackle reforms that are fiercely opposed by public-employee unions has an air of deja vu about it: In 2006, the Legislature held a special summer session on dozens of sensible proposals for property-tax reform. By the time January rolled around, most of them had been trashed - and the rest so watered down that they had little impact. League of Municipalities Executive Director William Dressel said the Legislature passed a 2006 cap law and, after that, "their momentum for other structural reforms melted away."
Dressel and others fear that's happening again. But this time, structural reforms are even more critical. Property taxpayers can't absorb more steep increases. And towns and schools will be hard-pressed to hold down expenses and maintain even a minimal level of services if they don't get relief from such cost-drivers as high arbitration awards and overly burdensome civil-service rules.
Pikolycky was particularly interested in the portions of the tool kit that relate to shared services. Woodbine just entered into an agreement to share its municipal court with Middle Township. Civil-service rules require buying out existing union contracts and bumping other employees for those with seniority, potentially wiping out savings from shared services. Christie's proposals would change that. In addition, Pikolycky said he wants to see additional legislation that would allow a town to sever contracts with its municipal judge, for example, if it enters into an agreement to share a court with another town.
Not every proposal in the tool kit is expected to be passed intact. But what is the holdup in getting these measures introduced and heard in committee? Is the Legislature still afraid of angering public-employee unions, which donate heavily to state campaigns? Is it so loath to act upon Christie's agenda?
Whatever the reasons, it's going to take more than editorials in newspapers and complaints from local officials to get the Legislature moving more quickly on this. It's going to take public pressure from taxpayers. Go to PressofAtlanticCity.com/opinions and click on "Your Lawmakers" to find your state representatives. Tell them if you believe these proposals should be a top priority this fall.