On cold winter days like today, Save Jerseyans, when the Governor is pitching free after-school dinners, MSNBC is running its ten-thousandth speculative Bridgegate segment and the state Republican Party is in free-fall, I like to think back to the heady days of 2010 when the Christie Revolution was new and pro-taxpayer reforms were on the table.
Like Cap 2.0 which, you might recall, was originally opposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney. Governor Christie pitched a 2.5% cap at the onset of negotiations; Sweeney supported a 2.9% cap. But the actual percentages aren’t the part worth remembering. Sen. Sweeney hated the entire idea of a lower cap. Probably any cap at all. And he wasn’t afraid to fall back on class warfare arguments to make the case.
In his testimony before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Sweeney complained that Christie’s proposal established a framework where “[w]ealthy communities can override, middle class communities don’t. This is creating the haves and the have-nots.”
Governor Christie’s original proposal proved much stricter than his Democrat counterpart’s “swiss cheese” counter-proposal. The only way to override the 2.5 Cap would’ve been to pay down debt or, alternatively, in the event of a referendum backed by 60% of municipal voters. Sweeney’s plan permitted exceptions for health care, pension and energy cost increases.
The end result was a true compromise: a 2.0% cap with exceptions backed by Democrats. The Governor has worked to close loopholes but he continues to meet resistance along the way.
Flash forward a few years. What a difference ambition makes!
Sweeney is unofficially but actively running for governor at a time when the incumbent is reaching the nadir of his political fortunes but, ironically, the very thing driving Christie’s numbers downward – Bridgegate and its ancillary scandals – is also producing potential primary roadblocks for the Gloucester County Democrat. The Christie cap is clearly working, dramatically lowering the rate of property tax increases across the state. Theoretically, if the loop holes are closed, the rest of the “tool kit” is enacted and the pension system remains solvent (a lot of assumptions, I know), these increases will begin to lag the rate of inflation at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Success breeds followers. Now Sweeney’s singing a very different tune and proposing an even lower cap…
“Zero — that would force shared services,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said during a meeting with The Times of Trenton editorial board. “I think it would take three or four years. They’ll continue to find ways to be more efficient.”
Sweeney has previously lamented that he didn’t push for New Jersey’s current 2 percent property tax cap to be even lower when it was adopted in 2010. After his shared services bill languished without action in the state Assembly last session, Sweeney said he needs an alternative plan to address the property tax burden in the state, though he has not floated the property tax cap drop with Gov. Chris Christie.
Lamentation? Oh boy. I like gubernatorial candidate Steve Sweeney! Pending more details, of course. Here’s hoping his ideological evolution continues at least right up until he needs to track left again to beat Fulop/Wisniewski/Zimmer/Weinberg, whomever, in the Democrat primary.
In the interim, I’m hoping our Senate President soon laments his decision to block Supreme Court justices and, having done so, blocked the most important step towards property tax reform: fixing the state’s broken education funding formula.
Waiting and watching but not expecting much…