Published in the Star-Ledger, Friday, June 1, 2007
Parties both want to trim tax boards
BY LAWRENCE RAGONESE
The Democratic chair of an Assembly committee says he is not blocking a bill to cut the size of politically bloated county tax boards to 2004 levels, putting blame on Republican sponsors for not aggressively pursuing it.
Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union) said the bill that would save an estimated $1 million annually was not heard this month by his Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee because he did not get calls or letters from Republican sponsors.
"I don't want anyone to think I'm holding this bill up," Green said. "The sponsors have to call me and ask me to post the bill, take some action to let me know they want it to be heard. Then I speak to leadership about it.
"I don't want anybody to think I won't post this bill. I favor this bill."
Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Warren) and Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) said they were surprised by Green's comments, but called and sent letters to Green's office to reaffirm their commitment to the bill.
"I spoke to Green and he said he would move it along," said Doherty, who in 2004 was the only member of the Assembly to vote against the tax board bill.
Beck urged Green to have the bill heard on June 14 if Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) calls the Assembly into a post-primary election session. She also will ask Green to co-sponsor the legislation.
The Legislature in 2004 passed a bill to increase tax boards from three to five members or five to seven members, at a time tax appeals were at 15-year lows, as shown in a Star-Ledger report. Tax appeals had diminished statewide from 93,340 in 1992 to just 13,883 in 2005 when the bill took effect.
Many of the state's 21 counties promptly added new tax board members. Most of the jobs went to people with political connections, paid $16,000 to $22,000 a year, with health and pension benefits, for the part-time tax job.
Some legislators said privately there has been pressure from both sides of the political aisle to kill the tax board reduction bill. But Green said he has not felt that pressure.
"This is not a political bill, it's a good government bill," said Green. "It's up to Joe Roberts to deal with any pressure."
Roberts, who co-sponsored the 2004 Assembly version of the bill to expand tax boards, did not respond to phone calls.
The bipartisan 2004 tax bill was sponsored in the Senate by state Sens. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) and John Adler (D-Camden). Bucco said he felt there was a need to bolster tax boards to deal with rising workloads. After seeing data showing appeals dropped substantially, the two senators earlier this year sponsored a bill to cut tax boards back to 2004 levels.
State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), who chairs the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, which must approve the bill, said he supports the measure. But Rice said other "more important" matters had pushed the tax board bill to the back of the line in his committee.
Lawrence Ragonese may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 539-7910.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.