Editorial | N.J. Property-Tax Reform

It's the Senate's turn

It's amazing what a lockdown can accomplish.

Democratic leaders put the New Jersey Assembly "under call" Monday, meaning members couldn't leave the Statehouse or abstain from voting. Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. (D., Camden) was determined to pass property tax reform.

The resulting legislation isn't the sustainable, systemic relief taxpayers hoped for last July, when Gov. Corzine called a special session. But the Assembly at least made some progress. The Senate spent last week diluting and delaying bills.

The Assembly approved tax credits, pension reforms, a fiscal watchdog, and a commission to encourage town and school mergers.

Three bills now head to the governor's desk, and a package goes to the Senate for consideration Monday. Senators are running out of excuses for their dallying.

Under the Assembly proposal, households making less than $250,000 a year would see a 10- to 20-percent tax break, to a maximum of $2,000 a year. Tenants also would get relief.

First-year tax-credit funding would come from sales-tax revenue and the current property-tax rebate program. After that, who knows? Long-term funding remains a serious problem.

The Assembly also passed a 4-percent cap on increases in municipal, school, county and fire-district spending. The list of exceptions demanded by interest groups has grown so long that the cap may prove ineffectual. But with a law on the books, the Legislature has something to strengthen over time.

Likewise, the new state comptroller, envisioned to weed out waste, will need more investigatory power.

The Assembly did toughen pension rules for lawyers, engineers and other professionals who hold multiple government jobs. The Senate had weakened those proposals.

It also wisely parted with the Senate by outlawing dual officeholding for future elected officials. Legislators who also serve as mayors, freeholders or school administrators have stymied this fall's property-tax-reform debate. Their conflicted loyalties have been unmasked by consolidation proposals and challenges to local governance, which could save tax dollars.

When sworn in as speaker, Roberts made property-tax reform his top priority. This week, he mustered the ranks and got bills passed. But they're barely a start. He must fill in the gaps to prove these ideas aren't one-time election-year gimmicks. New Jersey needs lasting relief.