N.J. lawmaker to propose bill allowing property tax hike larger than 2 percent cap
Published: Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 7:50 PM Updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010, 5:15 AM
Chris Megerian/Statehouse Bureau
TRENTON — Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union) will announce legislation Thursday proposing towns be allowed to temporarily exclude the cost of public safety personnel under a new law capping annual property tax collection increases at 2 percent.
The measure would allow municipalities and counties to raise property taxes outside the 2 percent cap to pay police officers, firefighters and emergency workers.
"When you move a cap quickly, sometimes you have to make some adjustments, and public safety is an area that requires one in my view," said Cryan, an undersheriff in Union County. "We haven’t provided local leaders an option to put a value on public safety."
Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation in July tightening the state’s cap on property tax increases from 4 to 2 percent. The law, which goes into effect next year, allows four exceptions: pension and health insurance costs, increased school enrollment, debt payments and states of emergency.
Police union leaders will hold a press conference today at the Statehouse to announce the number of cops in New Jersey has fallen 11 percent from January 2009 to earlier this month because of budget cuts — and that it could be cut further when the cap law takes effect next year.
"We want to highlight that there’s a decrease in police protection across the state," said Jim Ryan, spokesman for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. "It’s accelerating."
Ryan said 40 police officers are scheduled to be laid off today in Atlantic City.
"Without replacing these manpower levels, we’ll see a steady increase in crime," he said. "That’s our concern."
Bruce Stout, a criminology professor at the College of New Jersey, said lowering the number of police increases the risk of crime, although it’s not always a direct correlation.
"You can’t just add police. You have to be smart about policing as well," he said. "If you’re doing cutting edge policing, then those additional officers are likely to have an impact."
Cryan’s bill would allow public safety personnel to be an exception to the property tax cap for budgets enacted before 2014. He said the cap can be reinstated then because towns will have had time to renegotiate contracts and the economic crisis should have subsided.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) declined comment, saying she needs to review Cryan’s proposal.
Spokesmen for Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Christie also declined comment.