Historic Collaboration Will Give Way To Historic Reform

The Road to Property Tax Relief

Roughly three months ago, the thought of Rutgers being 9-0 was inconceivable. But, as we’ve learned, a lot can happen in three months time. The same can be said in Trenton.

This summer, we worked with Governor Corzine and our legislative colleagues on a bipartisan basis to authorize an unprecedented special session aimed at reforming New Jersey’s property tax system. The joint committee structure we devised has been a thorough, serious, and multi-dimensional effort inclusive of Republicans and Democrats, and – most especially – the general public.

As summer faded into fall, the four committees examined specific areas of our property tax system. One committee looked at the manner in which New Jersey funds its public schools. Another reviewed ways to cut costs by promoting service sharing and regionalization among New Jersey’s hundreds of local government units. A third panel explored ways to root out abuses and identify modernization measures for the public-employee pension and health benefits system. A final committee examined ways to achieve property tax reform through our state constitution or through a citizens’ constitutional convention.

Over the past 100 days, the joint committees held more than 40 public meetings, heard from more than 440 speakers, gathered over 6,000 pages of testimony, and received nearly 4,000 e-mail comments from concerned residents. From Newark to New Brunswick, from Clifton to Camden, the special session process ignited a property tax dialogue in town halls, schools, and editorial board rooms.

Today, the co-chairs of the four legislative committees will distill their work into reports and recommendations that will serve as the basis for legislative action in the coming weeks. The goal of this work is two-fold: provide short-term relief that will lighten the burdens of hardworking taxpayers and institute long-term structural reforms to improve the delivery of government services and relieve the property tax blues that have gripped our state for several decades.

Each committee member deserves our utmost appreciation, as does Governor Corzine, for pouring their blood, sweat and tears into this process. At times our committee members traveled to remote locations of the state, and on many occasions they spent endless hours hearing testimony from government experts, academics, officials, interest groups, and concerned residents.

Throughout this whole process, we made sure that public outreach was an important part of the special session through live cable broadcasts, posting video and audio recordings on the Internet, using video conferencing tools to get testimony from experts in other states and providing transcripts of proceedings online.

But while the information gathering, public outreach, and dialogue has been noteworthy, the special session’s enduring testament will be the recommendations and reforms that are being released today by the joint committees. Some might view today as the end of a long process, but in fact, it is really just a turning point, a new beginning, so to speak.

We intend to focus the upcoming weeks on transforming these recommendations into legislation that will be discussed and debated by the full Legislature. Among our key goals is to provide an immediate 20 percent reduction in property tax liability for most households, and long term structural reforms that will create the type of sustainability that can stem the rising tide of property taxes for years to come.

Key to these goals will be creating a framework for a fairer education formula based on student needs, rather than geography; implementing broad reforms to public employee pensions and health benefits, including reforms to eliminate abuses; and providing realistic ways to assist in the consolidation, regionalization, and sharing of services among municipalities and school districts.

There is no escaping the fact that New Jerseyans want to see some tangible, positive progress. They have good reason to expect — indeed, demand — such an outcome. With everyone in New Jersey feeling the pinch of rising property taxes — young and old, north and south, affluent and poor – the public’s expectation is for reforms that will be bold, understandable, and effective.

The reports being released today show that we’re on the right track. As the debate shifts to the full Legislature, it’s absolutely imperative that everyone in elected office – from the Governor’s office to the local school board – seize on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to come together, put special interests aside, and finally fix the state’s property tax system.

Senator Codey represents the 27th Legislative District, which includes part of Essex County, in the State Legislature. He serves as President of the Senate, and is a former Governor of the State of New Jersey.

Assemblyman Roberts represents the 5th Legislative District, which includes part of Camden County, in the State Legislature. He serves as Speaker of the Assembly.