Republicans in New Jersey’s Democrat-controlled Assembly said they will seek to force a vote on Governor Chris Christie’s proposed constitutional amendment that would cap property-tax growth at 2.5 percent a year.
The resolutions “have languished since being introduced on May 20,” Assembly Republicans Alex DeCroce and Jon Bramnick said today at a press conference in the Statehouse. Republicans will make a motion at the June 21 Assembly voting session to move the measures out of legislative committees, they said.
“While the Democratic leadership chooses to grandstand and focus on increasing taxes, precious time is being wasted to provide real relief to property-tax payers,” said DeCroce, the Assembly Republican leader.
DeCroce said the tax-cap proposal needs to be approved by early August for it to appear before voters on the November ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment. The resolutions, if moved out of committees, would be subject to a public hearing prior to legislative votes.
Christie, a Republican who took office Jan. 19, is seeking $10 billion of spending reductions in his $29.3 billion budget for next fiscal year. He has said his constitutional amendment is the best way to check the nation’s highest property-tax bills, which averaged $7,281 in 2009, according to state data.
Democrat Votes Needed
“This is urgent and necessary,” Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an interview. “What we don’t want is for the Legislature to just sit on their hands on this.”
In order to move the tax-cap bills forward on June 21, Republicans will need at least eight Democratic votes in the Assembly, their spokesman Richard Savner said in an interview. DeCroce said he isn’t sure his party can convince that many lawmakers to cross the aisle, and Democratic leaders haven’t responded to his attempts to discuss the matter.
“I do believe they understand how important this is to taxpayers and they’ll fear that if they don’t move it they’ll be seen as obstructionists,” said Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco, a Republican from Sewell who sponsors the cap and a constitutional 2.5 percent limit on state spending increases. “This is real property-tax relief. People have wanted that for 20 years.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange who controls the chamber’s agenda, last month said she would call a special summer legislative session focused on the cap and Christie’s 33-point plan to lower real estate levies. The package also would allow towns to opt out of civil-service laws and set limits on raises and benefits for public workers.
Democrats in the Assembly “will examine the governor’s plan when it can get the full attention it deserves -- not during the crucial days of the finalization of a Republican budget that taxes working families,” spokesman Tom Hester said.
“Assembly Democrats have made clear they’re willing to work with the governor on his reform proposals, but what’s needed is a reasonable and in-depth discussion based on facts,” Hester said in an e-mail. “We will do this right.”
Democratic Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, from Washington Township in Gloucester County, has introduced legislation to institute the cap by statute rather than writing it into the state constitution. DeCroce said Republicans won’t back that plan because they feel a cap should go before voters and structured so that future lawmakers can’t easily eliminate them.
Busy Voting Session
Democrats, the majority party in both legislative houses, plan to hold an Assembly vote on June 21 to override Christie’s May 20 veto of a measure that would extend an income-tax surcharge on earnings of more than $1 million. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said his house would take up the override “immediately” if it passes the Assembly.
Democrats seek to raise $637 million to restore Christie’s proposed cuts to property-tax rebates for the elderly. The governor and lawmakers face a constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget before the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.
The Senate voted 23-17 for the surcharge along party lines last month; the Assembly vote was 46-32, with one member of each party absent. Christie vetoed the measure minutes after it was approved. Democrats lack the two-thirds majority needed to override his veto without support from at least seven Assembly Republicans.