TRENTON - A bill to cap property taxes at 2.9 percent is set for a vote by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature on Monday, after an Assembly budget panel approved the measure Friday.
The legislation is the Democrats' answer to Gov. Christie's proposal to seek voter approval to amend the constitution with a "hard cap" of 2.5 percent on tax increases.
Christie is likely to veto their bill, which allows for more exceptions and has less permanence than enacting a cap constitutionally. Republicans, who are backing Christie's plan, are also unlikely to give Democrats the needed votes for an override.
The Democratic-controlled legislature, in turn, has not been any more receptive to Christie's cap. Friday's hearing by the Assembly Budget Committee at times grew testy as Assemblyman Dominick DiCicco (R., Gloucester) repeatedly asked why lawmakers had not posted for a vote resolutions he and other Republicans had introduced to put the 2.5 percent cap on the ballot.
DiCicco pressed them to let the voters, not politicians, decide, noting many residents don't trust elected officials.
"Why are we afraid of that?" he asked.
Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D., Middlesex) said lawmakers were elected to debate bills and were not there to pass off controversial ideas to the public.
"What are you afraid of? Why don't you stand up for yourself and take a hard position, and let the voters go up or down on whether you made the right decision?" Barnes asked DiCicco.
The bill passed by 6-4, along party lines.
The Senate version, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), cleared the budget committee of the upper house on Thursday.
Assemblyman John McKeon (D., Essex), a sponsor, testified before the Assembly budget panel that his proposal allowed for exceptions in heath insurance costs and state aid, while allowing local governments to "bank" unused funds under the cap for use in future budgets.
He voiced a familiar concern with Christie's plan, which would allow residents to override the cap with a 60 percent vote, by noting that wealthier towns could afford to override it and receive better services while poorer ones could not.
Several South Jersey public officials, however, showed up to testify against the 2.9 percent cap.
Haddon Heights Mayor Scott Alexander, Gloucester Township Councilwoman Crystal Evans, and Washington Township school board member Andrew Walter all expressed a preference for Christie's proposal.
A woman from Sicklerville also came out in favor of Christie's cap, saying there's no more money to spend, "so we have to learn how to budget. I have to, so I think everybody else should."