Both chambers of the state Legislature are slated to vote Monday on a handful of so-called “Path to Progress” bills — aimed at cutting down on state expenses and property taxes, which the top Senate Democrat described as “low-hanging fruit.”
One of the measures deals with examining ways that local governments can merge together different services or pool together their resources in pursuit of cutting local expenses, and as a result property tax rates.
Shared services between local governments tend to include K-12 regionalization, policing, public works, and parks and recreation.
The measure – which the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved Jan. 9 and the full Senate will consider Monday – sets aside $2 million to cover the additional costs of these new government positions. An Assembly version does not appear scheduled for Monday.
Another measure, Assembly Bill 2972, and its upper house version lets local governments put a statement on property tax bills to show how much money was saved through shared services.
“We’re going to start moving the bills. We think these are pretty easy ones and we would hope that they would be on board with these,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and the biggest cheerleader of the Path to Progress proposals, told reporters Thursday morning.
Somewhere upward of a dozen bills all aimed at promoting shared services are at various stages in the state Legislature. And Gov. Phil Murphy has taken steps within the administration to promote shared services agreements, including the appointment of two so-called shared services “czars” and the support of countywide school districts in less populous areas of the state.
A second measure approved Thursday, Senate Bill 3770, would create a permanent New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Review Commission to provide an ongoing review of the state and local tax structure, and economic and fiscal issues. That bill is scheduled for a vote in both houses on Monday.
“They’re the same issues, we have a financial problem, and should keep it in front of everybody, hopefully we’ll start to get some things done,” Sweeney added.
Breaking a new path
The commission was put together on an ad hoc basis soon after Murphy took office in January 2018. In August that year, the commission unveiled controversial proposals to cut the public worker health care and retirement plans, which Sweeney has argued could save the state tens of billions of dollars in the coming decades.
Proponents argue the changes are vital to bringing down New Jersey’s unfunded pension liability, which has ballooned to upwards of $100 billion.
One proposal calls for scaling back pension obligations for state workers with less than five years of experience and moving them into a hybrid pension and 401k-style plan. Another calls for transitioning public worker health care plans from the equivalent of a platinum level of coverage under the Affordable Care Act, to a gold level of coverage – which would mean those workers would have to shoulder more costs.
The members of the New Jersey Education Association and Communication Workers of America – school and state employees respectively – stand to be among the most impacted by the health care and retirement proposals. Murphy, whose campaign has received millions of dollars from the NJEA, is heavily opposed to them as well.
Sweeney said that those two proposals would be constitutional amendments, which would go before voters as a ballot question in the 2020 presidential election, effectively forcing Murphy’s hand.