New Jersey cut energy tax receipt funding for municipalities more than a decade ago to fill another budget hole, but now mayors on both sides want the money back.
A large group of mayors from across the state are in Trenton today to urge the restoration of the $321 million kitty that was embezzled in 2011.
“If we’re looking for property tax relief, it’s a no-brainer,” Hope Mayor Timothy McDonough said. “It’s our money. It should be here, in the municipalities. Now is the time to do it. The state is full of money, so we don’t want to hear about budgetary problems because the money is there.
The Senate approved the measure in a 39-0 vote in March, but the bill remains stalled in the Assembly’s State and Local Government Committee despite a bipartisan stable of 31 sponsors. One of the sponsors is committee chairman Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell).
“Once upon a time, they were collected directly by municipal governments,” lamented East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, who leads the New Jersey Conference of Mayors. Over time, for various reasons, this fundraising function was taken over by the state government, but this was done with the express promise that these funds would be returned to municipal governments.
McDonough called the decision to withdraw funds from municipalities to fund state projects “typical of bad government.”
“When you take money that’s owed to the people of this state and use it to fill holes in the state’s tax problems, that’s not fair, it has to go back to the people of the city what we need to get, we need to restore trust between the state legislature of the state government and ourselves,” McDonough said.
Woodbine Mayor Bill Pikolycky, President of the League of Municipalities, also believes the state can afford to restore energy tax revenues.
“It’s peanuts,” he said, comparing the cost to the total state budget.
But mayors have a short window to get there before the legislature completes the budget process and adjourns for the summer.
“During budget season, a week can feel like a month, so this plan can still be accomplished in the week ahead,” said Michael Cerra, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.