DeCotiis News

Louis Rainone, a partner at DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin and co-chair of the firm’s municipal practice, offered analysis on the results of the April 27 public referendums on property taxes. Earlier in the week, Rainone offered a prediction on the elections which largely proved to be true.

You can read Louis Rainone’s analysis below.

Nearly all of N.J. ballot questions to increase local spending defeated

Friday, April 29, 2011

State House Bureau

For almost a year, politicians on both sides of the aisle have touted the passage of a 2 percent property tax cap, designed to reign in local spending, halt sharp increases in property taxes, and give residents more power over their bills in one of the most heavily-taxed states in the country.

On Wednesday, residents in 12 towns took advantage of that power, sending a resounding "no" to their local governments asking them to exceed the new cap, the first referendums of the kind ever held in New Jersey. Only two out of 14 towns — Lambertville and Brick — passed questions permitting their local governments to exceed the cap, as mayors and local officials from the other 552 towns anxiously watched.

Experts say the votes signify New Jerseyans’ emphasis on keeping taxes low during a tough economy, even at the cost of cutting municipal services or laying off workers. Local government is likely to continue shrinking, they say, and the failure of most ballot questions this week will probably act as a deterrent for mayors thinking of asking next year.

"The message is pretty loud and clear: Don’t count on getting a levy cap waiver from us," said Louis Rainone, a municipal attorney and partner at DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Giblin. "It pretty much convinced them all what they already know, it’s going to get slammed."

The ballot questions were rejected by double-digit margins in almost every one of the 12 localities, some going down by 80 percent of the vote or more.

If the public pulse changes, it will be when residents see cuts affecting them personally, municipal experts say.

"The vote yesterday is a hypothetical scenario versus the real feeling of being overburdened with taxes, " said Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University. "Once the idea of severe cuts in services comes to fruition, voters may well have a different opinion."

Bill Dressel, executive director of the state’s League of Municipalities, said voters may be in for a "rude awakening."

"They’re going to be seeing police officers laid off, cuts that impact them personally," he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans Thursday applauded what they called democracy in action.

"The governor is obviously pleased," said Governor Christie’s spokesman, Kevin Roberts. "This is a hallmark initiative of the Christie administration."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said, "people are struggling to pay their bills. They voiced loud and clear how they feel about it."

Not everyone was thrilled with Wednesday’s outcome, though.

"I’m disappointed," said Hardwick Mayor Kevin Duffy, where the question failed by 56 percent, a margin of 34 votes. Hardwick will cut funds to the volunteer fire department, emergency services, seniors and recreation as a result.

Duffy said while no one likes to raise property taxes, his tiny town had little choice.

"We run the township on less than a million dollars a year. There’s no fat, there’s no frills built into what we do," he said.

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