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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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1-8-12 Governor Christie - Education Reform 2012 and Property Tax Reduction 2011
Philadelphia Inquirer - Christie: 2012 will be year of education reform

Star Ledger - Special Report: Did N.J. property tax reform help most taxpayers? ”New Jersey homeowners paid an average of 2.4 percent more for property taxes in 2011, the smallest increase in nearly two decades, showing Gov. Chris Christie’s push to restrain local levies might be working…”

Philadelphia Inquirer - Christie: 2012 will be year of education reform


Star Ledger - Special Report: Did N.J. property tax reform help most taxpayers? ”New Jersey homeowners paid an average of 2.4 percent more for property taxes in 2011, the smallest increase in nearly two decades, showing Gov. Chris Christie’s push to restrain local levies might be working…”


Philadelphia Inquirer - Christie: 2012 will be year of education reform

Posted: Sun. Jand 8, 2012, 12:02 AM by ANGELA DELLI SANTI

The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. - Gov. Chris Christie said he believes he has a good shot at making significant changes to public schools this year because the Legislature seems to have the political will to vote on proposals that stalled last year.

The Republican governor told The Associated Press that he might have overreached by expecting the Democratic-controlled Legislature to approve a contentious public worker pension/health benefits overhaul , then take up difficult education issues in a re-election year. He said he realizes now they were probably too fatigued politically to do both.

"I think they just became politically exhausted after pension and benefits reform," Christie said. "Even though we had some areas of agreement in May and June, I think they just became politically exhausted and said `No, I can't do any more, Governor, I'm sorry. We can't take any more risks. We can't anger anyone else. We can't threaten anyone else. We're just tired and we need to go run for re-election.'"

In a look-ahead interview with the AP on Friday, the governor said creating pay systems that reward top-performing teachers and making tenure harder to get and easier to lose remain tops on his agenda.

"I think it's more realistic to imagine that this year could be the year of education reform," Christie said. "And maybe wanting to make 2011 the year of sweeping pension and benefit reform and education reform may have been a bit too much."

He said he looked at the Legislature's refusal to move on his proposals last year as a deferral, not an impasse. He said he remained hopeful that compromises could be reached with Democrats who control the Legislature, many of whom do not support his proposals.

"Hopefully, education reform won't get squeezed out by something else this year," he said. "I think everybody's focused on this right now, and that's good."

Christie said he's "willing to listen" to Democrats who support merit pay for schools but not for individual teachers. But since most other industries award raises based on performance evaluations, he said he doesn't understand why some remain adamant that a similar system wouldn't be good for public schools.

Christie gave a shout-out to his nemesis, the powerful public teachers union, for its support of the Urban Hope Act, a bill that allows nonprofits to open new schools in three failing districts, but expressed frustration that his nominee for education chief has had his confirmation hearing held up for a year.

The nomination of Chris Cerf is being blocked by state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Newark, through a process known as senatorial courtesy, which requires sign-off from senators in the nominee's home county. Cerf has been on the job for a year as acting commissioner.

"It's not accurate to say, as Sen. Rice has said over and over, that this doesn't affect him," Christie said. "Having (the word) `acting' in front of your name implies a temporary-ness that makes permanent change more difficult to accomplish."

The most significant issue for Christie is revising teacher tenure because, he said, "the biggest difference-maker in a school is a great teacher at the head of the classroom." The governor wants to end permanent tenure and tie continued tenure to positive evaluations.

The teachers union has offered to require teachers to work for four years, instead of the current three, before being eligible for tenure; require mentoring for first-year teachers and make it easier to decide tenure charge cases.


Star Ledger - Special Report: Did N.J. property tax reform help most taxpayers?

Published: Sunday, January 08, 2012, 6:15 AM Updated: Sunday, January 08, 2012, 10:53 AM

By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger

TRENTON — New Jersey homeowners paid an average of 2.4 percent more for property taxes in 2011, the smallest increase in nearly two decades, showing Gov. Chris Christie’s push to restrain local levies might be working.

A Star-Ledger analysis of taxes in all 566 New Jersey towns shows the average property tax bill was $7,758 last year, an increase of about $182 from 2010.

Although more than 82 percent of the towns saw some increase in their average property tax bills last year, the 2.4 percent increase was a significantly slower rate of growth, the newspaper found. In 2010, property taxes rose 4.1 percent and year-over-year increases topped 7 percent for three consecutive years in the middle of the past decade.

The last time property taxes rose by such a small rate was 1992, when they went up 1.9 percent, according to state figures.

Check out your town's tax breakdown by clicking here and selecting Property Tax Data '11 from the "What's New" section.

Christie has made reining in New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes a big goal of his administration. Along with the Democrat-controlled Legislature, he limited property tax collections for towns, schools and counties at 2 percent, starting last January.

"Am I satisfied? Of course not. Unless you told me it was 2 percent, I wouldn’t be satisfied," Christie said in an interview. "But we’re making great progress. When you think that in the 10 years before I became governor, property taxes went up 70 percent in 10 years and now people are talking about 2-and-change increase, that’s great progress and progress that nobody else before we got here created in this state."

While the new law forced local officials to toe the line on property taxes, for some towns, complying with the cap came at a cost: Laying off employees, imposing furloughs, slashing services.

John O'Boyle/The Star-LedgerN.J. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, pictured in this July file photo, said the lower property tax increases were the result of the tax cap.

"It’s totally misleading in my opinion to say, ‘Oh, this 2 percent cap has done a great job for the towns.’ It has not," said South Brunswick Mayor Frank Gambatese, who laid off more than 20 employees in 2011 to stay within the limit.

The Star-Ledger collected tax data on all New Jersey municipalities. Average property values for residential homes and farmsteads were calculated for every municipality and used in combination with data on tax levies to determine the average property tax bill for each municipality. The analysis found:

In total, towns, counties and schools collected about $25.6 billion from taxpayers in 2011, a 2.5 percent increase from 2010.

Loch Arbour Village in Monmouth County had the highest average property tax bill at $22,715. Tiny Tavistock Borough, Camden County, came in second with $22,297, followed by Millburn, where the average property taxpayer coughed up $19,989.

The least expensive place to live in New Jersey was Walpack in Sussex County, where the average taxpayer paid about $514.

Bergen, Morris and Union counties had the highest average property taxes in 2011. The average Bergen County taxpayer paid $10,317, a 2.6 percent jump from 2010. Morris County’s average bill was $9,644, while Union County overtook Essex for third place, at $9,493.

The lowest county average was in Cumberland, where the average tax bill was about $3,419 in 2011, down 1 percent.

Together, the three taxing authorities (towns, schools and counties) exceeded a 2 percent increase in collections in 312 towns, while 165 stayed within 2 percent and 89 saw the levy stay the same or decrease. In 2010, 529 towns saw an increase in their total tax levy, 425 of which went over 2 percent.

Counties were more successful than towns and schools in keeping their tax levy below the cap.

"I always said that it was going to be a process to get to the 2 percent," Christie said. "I didn’t expect the towns to be able, all of them, all 566 of them to come in under cap the first year."

In fact, 27 municipalities, including many cities, were spared from the cap for part of 2011 because their budget years start in July or are switching their budget calendars. They will be subject to the 2 percent limit for this year’s budget.

State officials said they have not completed analyzing the same data, but said the numbers for property taxes could be lower after figuring in a tax credit that homeowners can apply for that replaced the long-standing Homestead Rebate checks.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said the reason property taxes were kept in check is "not hard to figure out — we put a cap on. Caps do work. And this is stuff that I’ve been talking about since 2006. The positive is Democrats and Republicans alike driving taxes down."

View your town's tax breakdown here or search in the narrow version below.

In addition to the limit, Christie spearheaded a massive overhaul of the pension and health benefits system for public workers in June. He said increased payments for health benefits by employees will be phased in, which will help towns over the next few years.

But for some residents, slower increases in property taxes are barely noticed in a state where they have doubled since 1996.

Maria Pedersen, 62, of North Brunswick, said she’s become used to property taxes "always going up, up, up."

If the rate of increase declined last year, Pedersen said, she didn’t notice: "What I know is that my escrow is always shorter every year because home insurance and taxes always go up."

Dave Eisma, 47, of South Brunswick, said property taxes are still on an unsustainable path.

"It seems like the average person is getting squeezed out," he said. "The biggest issue is that every year you get a 2 percent or 3 percent raise — if you’re lucky. Even with the caps, your income can’t keep up. … Anybody that’s retiring, they’re out of here."

The law allows local officials to go over the property tax limit to cover expenses related to a state of emergency, debt service costs and employee pensions and health benefits payments. Officials in towns battered by Tropical Storm Irene and the fluke October snowstorm warn they have to exceed the 2 percent limit.

Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish, who is president of the state League of Municipalities, said his town has cut back on capital improvements to stay within the cap.

"Costs keep going up," he said. "It’s not like everything is put on hold just because we have a cap."

Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said the cap makes "it difficult to bring about changes," like full-day kindergarten or a longer school day. "There’s really not much wiggle room."

Raphael Caprio, a professor of public administration at Rutgers University, said costs for towns will eventually spiral out of control, and local officials will be forced to make deep cuts in services. Now, he said, towns are making moderate cuts or using one-time fixes instead of axing whole departments or enacting long-term systemic changes.

"The 2 percent cap has worked," he said. "But at what point does it become a limitation to the quality of services that a town can provide?"

But Chris Rogers, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, said the limits aren’t tough enough. "The overspending, the unaccountability is still there," he said. "I don’t think the solution is for municipalities and school boards to take away services. I think the solution is for school boards and towns to come together to share duplicate services."

Towns and schools can ask voters for permission to exceed the 2 percent limit by holding a referendum. In 2011, 14 towns asked voters for permission to exceed the cap. Voters rejected the increase in all but two of the towns, Lambertville and Brick.

By Megan DeMarco and Eric Sagara/Star Ledger

Also contributed to this article: Matt Friedman, Salvador Rizzo and Jenna Portnoy


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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