(TRENTON) — Assembly Democrats on Friday announced a schedule for upcoming Assembly Budget Committee meetings and said the lack of information available from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on property tax caps highlight the need for a thoughtful review.
The lawmakers said they were concerned the administration was unable to answer many questions Friday about its oft-touted 2.5 constitutional property tax cap in Massachusetts, especially considering how property taxes rose 5.3 percent last year in Massachusetts, compared to 3.3 percent in New Jersey.
At one point, Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Lori Grifa told the committee when asked about Massachusetts’ frequent property revaluations, “I’m unaware of what they’re doing in Massachusetts.”
“This is a 30-year problem, and you’re not going to solve a decades-long problem over a three-day holiday weekend, especially when some of the departments cannot even come in to answer our questions,” said Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden). “We should know both what is working and what is not working in Massachusetts. We need to have that analysis, and the departments clearly need time to gather that information and share it.”
Greenwald announced the Budget Committee will meet Wednesday, July 7; Thursday, July 15; and Wednesday, July 21 to continue considering property tax reform. A public hearing will also soon be announced.
“There are many, many components to this, and a lot of the information we need to thoroughly vet all of this is unavailable,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex). “We have to be thoughtful going forward to ensure we do this right. For instance, we know that providing public safety is of paramount importance, but to not have an exception for it in the cap, as the governor has proposed, is nonsensical.”
Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson) noted one Massachusetts town has started charging residents $17 per month for street lighting.
“We want to make sure we’re not giving the taxpayers a smaller bill in one hand but a total shock in the other hand with new fee after new fee after new fee,” Quigley said. “We would not be successful if that is our outcome.”
“We’ve heard little, if anything, about how Massachusetts increased state aid when they implement their cap, while the recent budget adopted by Gov. Christie cuts state aid,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex). “The taxpayers of New Jersey, I’m sure, would appreciate an intelligent analysis that results in a plan that benefits them for years to come”
“You cannot advance a plan like this blindly,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “There needs to be a rational approach to this. Let’s get it right.”
“We heard today that the administration has a lot to learn about the Massachusetts cap and how it’s led to higher property tax increases in recent years than New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen). “The Assembly has laid out a thoughtful plan to find such answers, and hopefully we all will be able to work together to make it happen.”
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