Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce uses a word that has been missing from the legislative lexicon of late: compromise. In a race to fill her late husband’ unexpired seat, challenger Anthony Pio Costa III counters with “free market” to represent his philosophy.
The two are squaring off in the 26th Legislative District for the opportunity to take over the seat left open by the death of Alex DeCroce, a longtime Assembly member and the GOP leader in the lower house.
Betty Lou DeCroce, of Parsippany, won a special GOP convention held in late January to fill her husband’s seat until the November election. She’s well versed in government, having served as municipal official, board member of a county joint insurance fund, and deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs
This experience has taught her that tackling large problems require give-and-take to move toward solutions. The key to compromise is listening, DeCroce said, and those who compromise can make progress on sticky issues. “I saw it happen at the municipal level,” she said.
Her opponent, Pio Costa, operates his family’s development business, Pio Costa Enterprises, which was founded by his father. The company has built numerous projects across North Jersey. As a builder, he said, “I take a free market approach to things.”
Pio Costa supports smaller and smarter government, which would also include regulatory reform, especially for the state Department of Environmental Protection, which he said hampers the ability of companies to build and towns to grow.
“People are leaving this state because they can’t afford to live here and pay the taxes,” he said. “Those are the things we should be talking about.”
Pio Costa ran for the Assembly in 2005 as a Libertarian. He supports term limits and believes no elected official should serve more than six years.
The main issue that drove Pio Costa into this race was DeCroce’s convention victory to succeed her husband. The challenger said he does not believe a seat should pass from husband to wife.
DeCroce resigned as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs to assume the Assembly seat. She previously served in a variety of government posts in Mine Hill, Roxbury, Parsippany and the Morris County Joint Insurance Fund from 1984 to 2010.
She has made her top priorities reducing property taxes, writing real civil service reforms, and addressing local flooding issues.
DeCroce supports efforts by Gov. Chris Christie to cut income taxes, but said the more important issue is cutting property taxes. An effective way to cut property taxes is to enact civil service reforms, she said.
Those reforms were included in Christie’s tool kit, 33 bills that the governor said are needed to reduce local taxes. He vetoed a civil service reform bill last year because it did not include sufficient changes to the system.
DeCroce said that present civil service rules hamper the ability of local officials to enact reforms within their own governments and are a stumbling block in discussions with other towns about shared services. This is especially true when considering shared or merged police departments, she said.
Civil service reforms could be an important tool to help local officials control spending in the era of the 2 percent tax levy cap, which is working well, she said.
Pio Costa said he favors Christie’s efforts to reduce income taxes, but as part of a larger tax cut plan. “We need tax reform in general,” he said. A stepped-down approach to an income tax cut would be an effective tool to cut the tax over three years and leave the sate able to manage the income loss annually, Pio Costa said.
Finding solutions to help residents and towns address local flooding is an important issue in the 26th District, home to the often-flooded Passaic River Valley, DeCroce said.
Pio Costa agreed that flooding is a key issue, but disagreed on the solution. Buying homes and land along the rivers will not solve the problem, he said. Someone being bought out will not be able to afford a new home for the money he is getting. Instead, better management of pre-storm water levels in upstream dams and reservoirs could help, along with re-engineering the confluence of the Pompton and Passaic rivers to reduce flooding.
Addressing healthcare, DeCroce said she supports the governor’s veto of legislation that would have set up a state healthcare exchange. Until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on the federal healthcare reform act, states are best to wait, she said.
Pio Costa also agreed with Christie’s veto of the healthcare exchange bill. “Why do we need it?” he asked. More importantly, he asked, why should government pay healthcare costs for those who cannot afford it?
DeCroce said it is best to address significant policy issues through small decisions. That’s how she would deal with capital spending for higher education needs. She first would like to examine the needs presented by the colleges and universities to prioritize the demands before seeking funding.
She also supports efforts to support the state’s solar industry. DeCroce said she has seen at the local level how energy purchasing cooperatives and joint solar projects offer towns and schools an opportunity to reduce ongoing operating expenses, which in turn offers a way to lower property taxes.
On broader state issues such as the college capital building program, healthcare and solar power development, Pio Costa supports small government, and market-oriented solutions.
He opposes the higher education capital bond issue because it would require the state to borrow money.
The Republican primary winner will face Democrat Joseph Raich of Parsippany in a Nov. 6 special election. Raich is unopposed in the Democratic primary.