In a victory for property tax reformers, Gov. Christie and local elected officials of both political parties, NJ Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver tabled legislation yesterday that represented reform in name only. AB 3393, a bill Democratic leadership claimed would reform local governments' broken binding arbitration process, would have done almost nothing to control spiraling local government employee compensation costs.
The governor and Democratic local elected officials like Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. and Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage made the convincing case to Assembly Democrats that a hard cap on binding arbitration awards, absent from AB 3393, is a necessity to control costs to counties and municipalities and make the recently-passed 2 percent property tax cap workable.
And limiting property taxes is the entire point. We commended the legislature and the governor when the 2 percent cap passed in July. But we also called for the type of mandated spending restraint Gov. Christie and local elected officials seek.
In response to Democratic Christie supporters like DiVincenzo, Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) mused yesterday that, "nowadays, you don't know who's a Democrat." Surely he meant this as a dig at members of his party who have the gall to support a Republican governor. But in reality, this is high praise in the new New Jersey. An outspoken Republican critic of the status quo has steadily compiled an army of supporters of all political stripes who agree that business as usual cannot continue in the Garden State. And developments like yesterday's defeat of a toothless bill that gives lipservice to the real problem are an encouraging step on Gov. Christie's road to reform.
Rather than running out the clock on real reforms, Democratic leadership in both chambers must embrace the bipartisan consensus that has formed over the governor's tool kit. The clock is still ticking.