TRENTON – Amid the ceremonial oath taking and the speeches at today’s Assembly reorganization meeting, a line by Lou Greenwald, who is again Majority Leader, resonated.
Recalling his arrival in the lower house in 1996, he said the big issues were property taxes and auto insurance. The Legislature did do something to stabilize auto insurance rates.
But not property taxes. That problem is as pressing in 2022 as it was in 1996.
It’s not as if people don’t talk about it.
Greenwald said property taxes metaphorically strangle residents throughout the state.
And he – like many before him – boldly expressed hope the Legislature can fix and reform a broken system. He said the body is capable of doing “big things” if it really is committed.
There are many reasons why the property tax system has not been fixed and public sentiment has a lot to do with it. It’s not that average people don’t want property taxes lowered. It’s that many don’t support what needs to be done.
In simple terms, to truly reduce property taxes you need to merge or consolidate what property taxes support – local government and schools – and/or reduce services. Neither option has proven to be politically palatable.
When it came his turn to speak, Republican Leader John DeMaio offered some ideas.
He said the current thinking of the majority seems to be that some sort of program needs to be invented for “everything imaginable.”
Rather than do that, how about sending more state aid to towns and school districts and tie it to property tax relief?
Whether DeMaio and his caucus push such an idea remains to be seen. Republicans are still in the minority, but there are six more of them this time around than there were in the last session.
Craig Coughlin, who was elected to another term as Speaker, referenced the very election that saw the GOP make gains.
He said the message he took from last November was that many New Jerseyans feel vulnerable and often helpless.
“Life in New Jersey is expensive,” Coughlin said. “And we need to figure out how to make it more affordable again.”
Putting the actual obligation to govern aside for a moment, it was Greenwald who struck the most philosophical tone.
He gave the new members an arithmetic lesson of sorts – noting that there are 9.3 million people in the state and only 120 legislators (80 in the Assembly and 40 in the Senate) to represent them. He said that realization should convey the magnitude of the job and he urged them to approach it with passion.
Greenwald said the egos all elected officials tend to have must be controlled. As he put it:
“Don’t assume you know what you don’t know.”