NJ Senate tries again to push key property tax reforms

NJ Senate tries again to push key property tax reforms

1/25/2007, (AP)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Most New Jersey home owners may inch closer Thursday to getting a 20 percent property tax cut, but that inching may not come easy.

The Senate is slated to meet to consider two property tax reform measures, including creating a fiscal watchdog demanded by Gov. Jon S. Corzine if he's to approve the tax cut meant to help 95 percent of state homeowners pay the nation's highest property taxes.

The Senate tried Monday to approve the post, but with Republicans and Democratic Sen. Barbara Buono opposing the bill, and with Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari absent, Senate President Richard J. Codey couldn't get the 21 votes needed to pass it.

Codey, D-Essex, hopes to have enough votes Thursday, if all Democrats attend the session.

"I think we'll get it done," said Senate Majority Leader Bernard F. Kenny, D-Hudson.

Thursday's session is the latest bid by lawmakers to pass reforms as part of a nearly six-month-long effort to cut property taxes that average $6,000 per homeowner.

A Wednesday poll showed 67 percent of New Jersey voters have little confidence that major property tax reforms are coming.

"These poll numbers should set off alarm bells for every legislator," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden. "It's time for the Legislature to put up or shut up on passing its property tax package."

The Assembly recently approved a comptroller bill, but the Senate changed it so the comptroller would place more emphasis on state government and authorities than on local governments that collect property taxes.

Hudson County legislators opposed giving the comptroller wide-ranging authority to investigate local governments. Buono, D-Middlesex, initially sponsored the bill, but withdrew support after it was revised.

Corzine contends the changes still give a comptroller the ability to find wasteful government spending and fraud.

"I like the bill," Corzine said. "I think it actually is rational, will lead to a better allocation of resources. I think it's strong."

If the Senate approves the revised bill, it will have to be reconsidered by the Assembly, where Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, recently expressed concern about the changes.

The Senate is also slated to consider a bill to redo taxpayer-paid benefits for elected and appointed officials.

The bill would bar newly elected and appointed officials from receiving taxpayer-paid pensions, bar officials such as municipal attorneys from receiving pensions and cap the amount of sick and vacation time officials could cash out upon retirement.

It wouldn't revise benefits for unionized government workers. Corzine is attempting to negotiate such changes in contract talks with state workers.

The 20 percent tax cut would go to households earning up to $100,000, with those earning up to $150,000 getting a 15 percent cut and those earning up to $250,000 getting a 10 percent cut.

Legislation to implement that cut is expected to be introduced Thursday, combined with a plan to cap annual property tax increases at 4 percent. The cap will have exemptions and allow local governments to ask the state and voters for approval to exceed the cap.

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