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Hearing is first in effort to bring systematic reform

(TRENTON) – Assembly Democratic lawmakers said Thursday’s hearing by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee examining was an invaluable step toward tackling state mandates on local governments that drive property tax increases.

“This was a great first step,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), the committee’s chairman. “I expect more hearings and to push forth legislation that will bring real savings to property taxpayers without spending a dime, simply by easing mandates that may no longer be serving their purpose or are simply too burdensome.”

The panel heard testimony from the Departments of Community Affairs and Treasury, New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Health Officers Association, the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association, New Jersey environmental authorities, the New Jersey Library Association, and the New Jersey Laborers.

McKeon was recently asked by Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver to lead an effort to examine state mandates on local governments.

“While my main emphasis has been on finding a way to reduce New Jersey’s over-reliance on property taxes, this hearing was a great step toward helping local governments cut costs on mandates that may not be as helpful as intended,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the committee vice-chairman. “If we’re going to make a difference in finally combating property taxes, this is undoubtedly an area that needs to be examined.”

The legislators said the effort to examine mandates is part of the Assembly’s drive to find ways to control government spending and costs amid the new 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases. He said Thursday’s hearing is the first of several planned hearings on the topic.

“Systemic change is what’s needed, and this is part of that effort,” said Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex). “We cannot continue with the status quo of a system that costs New Jersey taxpayers too much money.”

“Many of these mandates were imposed with the best of intentions, but as we heard, streamlining rules and regulations on municipal governments can go a long way toward helping save money for our taxpayers,” said Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Camden). “This isn’t a simple process, but we are committed to this reform.”

“Our goal here is to streamline mandates and abolish those that are no longer necessary, while keeping a constant focus on helping to control property taxes,” said Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Our tangled web of rules and regulations clearly isn’t working as well as was hoped, so clearly change is in order.”