As reported on nj.com, New Jersey mayors got some tough love from the State Senate, which passed a bill that would cut State funding for towns that refuse to merge public services with their neighbors. The bipartisan measure, touted as a way to lower New Jerseyans’ soaring property tax bills by reducing the size of local governments, is a top priority for Senate President Stephen Sweeney and has been supported by Governor Chris Christie.
It passed 25-9 after a short debate, with some Republicans and Democrats expressing concern about how it would play out. If the bill becomes law, state officials, including the treasurer, would decide which municipalities could combine services like garbage pickup and fire and police departments to save money for their taxpayers.
Critics say they support the basic idea but that the bill poses too many logistical hurdles for local governments and seeks to twist residents’ arms into approving mergers that may not be in their best interest. They also said recent changes that retain some protections for workers will weaken towns’ ability to save money.
Under the bill (S-2), towns singled out by the State would have to merge services voluntarily or put the question to a referendum. Those that don’t end up sharing services would lose property tax relief funds from the State and would not be able to go above the 2 percent cap on property tax increases to make up the loss.
After a recent amendment, towns with workers that have union protections may not be able to share services with towns that don’t have those union benefits. But the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services said in a fiscal analysis this month that the bill still cuts other union protections such as severance pay for laid off workers, and local governments could still save money by pooling “costs associated with equipment, maintenance, and personnel.”
The bill is pending in the Assembly, where it has yet to get its first committee hearing.