Tag Archive: League of Municipalities

Governing in the “Spirit of Sandy”

Cross posted at my column at The Epoch Times.  


The 98th Annual League of Municipalities Convention luncheon on November 21, 2013, was supposed to be the traditional annual address to a bipartisan gathering of the Mayors and Councilmembers that make up New Jersey’s 566 Municipalities.  The theme was “Navigating Recovery & Renewal” (or “Dealing with the Devastation of Sandy”). And NJ Governor Chris Christie was a no show.

NJ’s Superfriends

The League of Municipalities is not an imaginary group of cartoon Superheroes like we used to watch on Saturday mornings, but it is a pretty important group in the State of New Jersey who help train and educate ordinary folks on how to be better elected officials.  

Many folks wonder how New Jersey can operate as a cohesive government when everyone here is from a small town, with the exception of a few big cities such as Camden, Paterson, Jersey City, Hoboken and Newark.  Well, this is how:  The League of Municipalities, which predates Prohibition, has a yearly convention in Atlantic City and anyone who is anyone in NJ government is usually there.  

The Convention

During the day, the trade show floor is filled with heavy trucks and the seminars are filled with eager newly elected officials who have no clue what they just won – the chance to be confused by ethics laws, shady contractors and the ability to spend lots of money.  At night it is a Jersey version of the Academy Awards with shadows of Boardwalk Empire. Everyone shows up and is wined and dined at amazing parties to network and meet and greet other Mayors, Council members, and the vendors who keep the towns and cities in asphalt, fire trucks, and snow plows. The consultants always throw the most lavish parties, although Bergen County’s Democratic Party Boss Joe Ferriero’s (now indicted for racketeering) were legendary.

More below the fold

The Budget Ritual

As part of the annual state budget ritual, the Assembly Budget Committee takes testimony from the public (i.e. lobbyists and other special interests). They hold three sessions – one each in North, Central, and South Jersey.

Today’s session in Trenton was the first of the three. Groups scheduled to testify represented interests as varied as mental health, families, the environment, and the OU. Everyone realizes the strain on the budgets, and most groups lobby for token increases in state aid.

Among those testifying was Janice Mironov. She’s the mayor of East Windsor and President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. Those municipalities are caught in the crosshairs of budget cuts. They are restricted in how much they may raise taxes by the 2% cap while at the same time being asked to assume the burden of services that are being cut back by the state. Property assessments have gone down due to the recession and many communities lost a significant portion of their ratables in Hurricane Sandy.

Part of the problem that these municipalities face is the fact that Governor Christie has taken funds earmarked for municipalities and used those funds to balance the state budget. One such fund is the Energy Tax Credit. This is money paid by the utility companies for property they occupy within towns (such as substations). The state collects this money and is supposed to pass it through to the municipalities – but doesn’t. Last year, Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would require the money to go directly to the municipalities. In response, a revised bill (A3571), co-sponsored by an unlikely bipartisan alliance between Assemblymen Troy Singleton and Jay Webber has been introduced that addresses the governor’s concerns and if passed and signed, will provide local governments with those funds.

I spoke with Mayor Mironov about this and other topics after she testified to the Committee:

The remaining two Assembly Budget Committee public hearings will be on March 19 in Camden and on April 9 in Newark.

Canceled: NJ League of Municipalities Conference

“What’s next” after New Jersey elections has been for 97 years the annual League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City. But this year it’s canceled. Blame Sandy.

Just this morning I was urging Flemington’s newly-elected Dem councilwoman to go, even before her swearing-in. The League actually canceled late Monday, but I missed it in the election din.

This morning I talked to Councilman Chuck Chiarello, League immediate past president. State officials are always key players at these things and Chiarello told me the League’s decision rested partly on Gov. Christie’s expectation that he and other officials would still be on storm duty next week.

The conference was Monday-Thursday at the Atlantic City Convention Center. About 20,000 people were expected; electeds at all levels of NJ government, plus spouses, vendors, lobbyists. It’s one of AC’s cash cows, and the second scrapped this week. NJEA’s would have started tomorrow.

Three meetings required by League bylaws and normally folded into the AC schedule will all be held next month in Princeton. That’s the business of deciding which issues the League will pursue with the Legislature, an annual business meeting and a nominating meeting for League officers.

Newly-elected municipal electeds ready to get their feet wet can still attend one of two orientations the League hosts; Jan. 12 in Eatontown and Jan. 26 in Rutherford. There’s also a well-regarded 15-hour class given by Rutgers, Powers and Duties of Municipal Elected Officials but the Continuing Education Center for Government Services was not reachable as I was writing this.  

Blue Jersey Focus – Adam Gordon on Affordable Housing

Recently, Governor Christie decided to re-appropriate funds for affordable housing to the general fund in order to help balance the budget and justify tax breaks for the wealthy. Along with the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the Fair Share Housing Center took the administration to court and won a partial victory. Before the governor can steal the funds from the municipalities, the court ordered that an appeals process needed to be followed.

It’s a complex issue, and to better understand it, I visited Fair Share Housing Center Staff Attorney (and Blue Jersey writer) Adam Gordon in his Cherry Hill office to help sort things out.

Triple veto by Christie on housing bills undermines NJ economic recovery

promoted by Rosi

Over the past several days, Gov. Christie took decisive action to weaken New Jersey’s economy by vetoing three important legislative initiatives to revive our troubled housing market.

Take it from the head of the NJ Association of Realtors talking to NJBiz:

According to New Jersey Association of Realtors CEO Jarrod Grasso, foreclosed properties – which are now hitting New Jersey’s residential real estate market at a record pace – “have been the albatross preventing true recovery in the state. . . . We’re hopeful that, though the governor doesn’t support this bill, that it will be called back to the table.”

That was about the New Jersey Residential Foreclosure Transformation Act (S-1566/A-2168), which was supported by housing advocates, municipalities, bankers, special needs groups, and developers, to name a few. It would have reused foreclosed properties to create much-needed housing affordable to lower-income households.

Christie also vetoed bipartisan legislation (S-2011/A-2950), which would have extended the deadline to spend over $200 million in municipal housing trust funds by two years, and budget language which would have provided a safe harbor for municipalities to commit these trust funds rather than having them taken by the state for use in the General Fund.

Assemblyman and Housing and Local Government Committee Chair Jerry Green issued a statement expressing his disappointment and frustration with the Governor’s action stating, “The governor spent a good amount of time yesterday talking about helping the people of New Jersey.  I’m not sure what segment of the population he was referring to, but it’s certainly not the working class families of New Jersey.  Under this administration, they are on their own.”

The Legislature really stepped up to the plate in seeking solutions to New Jersey’s housing crisis, in which foreclosure filings have climbed 86% in the past year and are at triple the national average. Longtime champions of fair housing among the Democratic majority such as Green, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg worked hard to craft innovative and important solutions to this economic problem, and deserve praise for bringing together a wide array of support to move New Jersey’s housing market forward.

We also were glad to see leaders in the Governor’s own party including Senators Diane Allen, Christopher Connors, and Robert Singer, Assembly members DiAnne Gove, Amy Handlin, and David Wolfe, and mayors from throughout the state recognize the need to take action to fix New Jersey’s broken housing market.

More below about what comes next…

Mayor’s Forum in Trenton

Today, a group of eight mayors, representing cities, suburbs, and rural areas, spoke at the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. Their pleas were all identical – stop unfunded mandates and stop the practice of the state appropriating special collections that were intended for municipalities.
It was a love fest, with senators from both parties preaching the mantras of “no new taxes” and realization that cuts need to be made.
Yet, no one from either party talked about equitable taxation. We still bestow millionaires with tax breaks that have yet to demonstrate their promised job-creation magic. And while municipalities tinker around the edges of consolidation and shared services, with a few exceptions there’s more lip service than action. Perhaps municipalities should look at a structured way to be more efficient, rather than just exploiting ad hoc opportunistic changes.
Being an honest mayor is probably one of the toughest jobs in New Jersey. The eight who spoke today are:
Art Ondish – Mt. Arlington
Janice Mirinov – East Windsor
Joseph Venezia – Estell Manor
Rob Campbell – Downe Twp
Wayne Smith – Irvington
Sophie Heymann – Closter Borough
Chuck Chiarello – Buena Vista Twp
Paul Medany – Deptford Twp
At about the 1:40 mark, there’s a 25 second gap in the State House audio feed as the mayors try to figure out how to operate the “on/off” switch on the microphones. Deal with it.

On Christie Budget Raid, DCA Testimony Raises More Questions than Answers

promoted by Rosi

new Jersey is the fourth most expensive state in the country to rent a home, with an 18% increase in rents over the last five years. And we have more than 100,000 homes in the foreclosure process.

We have the ability and funding in place to start to make a dent in these problems. There is over $200 million in municipal trust fund money from fees on developers, dedicated to entry-level homes. And $75 million from the national foreclosure settlement.

But Chris Christie needs this money – to provide tax cuts for millionaires. Otherwise his budget isn’t balanced.

It’s murky how he plans to do this. Like the controversial energy receipts fund, the affordable housing trust funds are supposed to be administered by municipalities – not sucked in by the state. The Legislature in 2008 passed a law giving towns four years to “commit” the money. But Christie refuses to give a clear answer as to what “commit” means, leaving the League of Municipalities and towns to fear that DCA will unfairly take the funds, never to be seen again.

Yesterday morning’s testimony by DCA Acting Commissioner Richard Constable provided more questions than answers. Constable could not explain where the $200 million would go, saying that a lot of it would go outside of his department. Which is problematic, because that’s where most of the state’s housing programs are. He said the Administration would comply with the law restricting such funds for housing uses – but wouldn’t say how.

Similarly, he had no answers on where the $75 million for foreclosure funds would go, except apparently not to DCA.