New Jersey's Assembly Democrats Haven't Backed Property-Tax Cap Agreement

Democrats in the New Jersey Assembly haven’t signed off on the agreement reached between Governor Chris Christie and lawmakers in the Senate on a plan to limit growth in the state’s property taxes.

Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan, a Union Democrat, said the party’s 47 members will meet tomorrow in Trenton to take a position on the proposal and set a timeframe to act on it. Cryan, 48, declined to say whether the plan will pass the lower house.

Democrats passed the state’s current 4 percent cap on the rise of property taxes, and most lawmakers see the 2 percent limit Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced this weekend as a “next step,” Cryan said. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said July 3 she wasn’t involved in drafting that proposal and hasn’t endorsed it. Oliver didn’t respond to attempts to reach her through her Trenton office.

“We haven’t signed off yet,” Cryan said today in a telephone interview. “We’re going to vet it and talk to our members. We’re going to work on our timeframe.”

Christie, a Republican who took office Jan. 19, and the Democrat-led Legislature have disagreed over how to rein in the state’s property taxes, which are the highest in the U.S. at an average of $7,281 in 2009, up 72 percent since 1999.

Weekend Agreement

The governor, 47, had called for a constitutional amendment capping annual growth in the levies at 2.5 percent and allowing communities to exceed it only for bond payments or through a referendum. Christie dropped that demand and agreed to more exemptions after facing resistance from legislators.

Under the pact, the tax increases would be capped at 2 percent with exemptions for rising health-insurance costs, bond payments, natural disasters and pension costs, Christie told reporters July 3 in Trenton. Communities also would be able to exceed the cap with the approval of a simple majority of voters in a public referendum.

The governor sent the plan to the Legislature today when he conditionally vetoed a 2.9 percent cap lawmakers approved last week. Christie sent it back to them with an agreement to enact it if they approve the changes in last week’s accord. Sweeney said the agreement would get a July 8 vote in the Senate.

“Now is the time to act, not hesitate,” Christie said in a statement. “The stakes are too high for New Jersey families who are struggling to make ends meet and fighting to stay in their own homes to delay any longer in providing real, meaningful property-tax relief.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton, New Jersey, at tdopp@bloomberg.net.

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