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Fine Print: Senate Bill, No. 29

A closer look at the words that drive Sen. Sweeney's counterattack to Gov. Christie's 'Cap 2.5.'

Sponsor: Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester)

Official synopsis: Reduces school district, county and municipal property tax levy from 4 percent to 2.9 percent and permits unused school district, county and municipal increases to be banked for three succeeding years.

What it means: This is Sweeney’s counterattack to Gov. Chris Christie's proposed Cap 2.5, which by Constitutional amendment would limit schools, municipalities and counties to 2.5 percent caps, with the exception only for debt service and voter override. The current cap is 4 percent, with a host of exceptions. Sweeney’s bill would slightly raise the limit from Christie's proposal, keep the measure as a statute, allow districts to apply for waivers that would allow them to exceed the cap, and also let them “bank” any unused amounts to coming years.

Key sentence: "A school district may request approval from the commissioner for a waiver to increase its adjusted tax levy by more than the allowable amount … to address a district’s failure to meet the core curriculum content standards."

This is the out-clause of the bill, allowing districts to make their case for larger increases if needed. For municipalities, it would be waivers based on health and safety reasons. Christie has opposed any such exceptions in his so-called "hard cap." Still, this is a compromise from Sweeney’s initial proposal that would include nearly a dozen exceptions, including for certain extraordinary health care, energy costs and transportation costs. Sweeney's proposal also would not allow for voter override.

Prospects:The bill was released yesterday by the Senate Budget Committee, with votes along party lines. The Assembly budget committee is expected to take up the measure today. Even it passes both the Senate and Assembly, most expect it would be vetoed by Christie, who has staked much of his time and energy around his Cap 2.5 plan. Still, such machinations could further delay any action on the Cap 2.5 and prevent it from getting passed by committee in early July, the deadline for any constitutional amendment to be on this November’s ballot.

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