With yesterday’s signing of a 2 percent property tax cap, Gov. Chris Christie and the legislature knocked off the first of 33 proposals in Christie’s so-called toolkit to help municipalities, counties and school districts bring down their costs.
Or the cap was at least a version of the first proposal on the list, with the governor and legislators settling on a statutory cap of 2 percent with some exemptions, as opposed to Christie’s initial 2.5 percent cap by constitutional amendment with no exemptions.
Yet as painful as No. 1 was to accomplish, the next 32 may not be much easier. Christie yesterday said his priorities would be reforms to civil service and interest arbitration. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) afterward said not so fast on allowing municipalities to opt out of civil service outright, as Christie has proposed, but he agreed the system could be improved.
The following is the full list of the proposals, verbatim, as presented by the governor back in May. Some have already been introduced as bills and others will be tweaked and adjusted to match the new 2.0 percent cap, but the governor’s office said yesterday that by and large they remain intact.
MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY TOOL KIT
1) Constitutional amendment to impose a 2.5% cap on increases in the property tax levy increases for municipal, school and county taxes, cap banking is allowed.
2) Constitutional amendment to place a 2.5% cap on spending for State government operations (excluding state aid to municipalities and school districts and direct property tax relief); cap banking is allowed.
3) Reform in selection of arbitrators for union contracts.
4) Arbitrators are mandated to consider impact of union contracts on property taxes, no such requirement in current law.
5) Arbitrators are barred from making contract awards that exceed 2.5% cap, inclusive of all salary, benefit and other economic contract provisions
6) Pension benefit reform – eliminate eligibility for State retirement systems for non- government groups and associations.
7) Pension benefit reform – cap sick leave and carry forward of vacation for current employees.
8-9) Shared services reform – when local units decide to share services current law requires buyout of union contracts, bumping and other civil service protections that destroy the efficiencies of the merger; this proposal eliminates certain civil services protections when services are shared. (2 bills required to amend different statutes).
10) Allow furloughs by local government to save costs.
11) Allow counties and municipalities to opt out of civil service municipalities by ordinance or referendum initiated by 15% of the voters.
12) Public employee discipline reform – reclassify many offenses as minor to avoid lengthy and costly hearings for relatively trivial infractions.
13) Police employee discipline reform – reclassify many offenses as minor to avoid lengthy and costly hearings for relatively trivial infractions.
14) Firefighters discipline reform – reclassify many offenses as minor to avoid lengthy and costly hearings for relatively trivial infractions.
15) Employee discipline reform – revise appeal process of employee disciplinary hearings to reclassify many offenses as minor.
16) Revise layoff rules to allow less senior, but more essential employees to avoid bumping.
17) Give Civil Service Commissioner more day-to-day control as when the Department of Personnel was a freestanding department.
18) Increase testing and appeal fees for civil service promotional exams.
19) Allow Civil Service Commissioner to make seasonal appointment for 9 months.
20) Allow municipalities to offset property tax refunds against State income tax refunds.
21) Expand parties that may bring challenges to Council on Local Mandates to includes groups, like the League of Municipalities. (Currently, only individual municipalities can do this and is too costly for one town to “go it alone.”)
EDUCATIONAL TOOL KIT
22) No school contract award in excess of 2.5% cap, inclusive of all salary, benefit and other economic contract provisions.
23) School districts could once again impose a “last best offer” contract under certain circumstances.
24) Executive county superintendents approval of all union and superintendent contracts. No approval of contracts with:
25) Executive county superintendents would be required to implement sharing of school business functions across districts and with municipalities.
26) Pension reforms similar to those affecting municipalities.
HIGHER EDUCATION TOOL KIT
27) Revise fact finder decision standards (when awarding a new employee contract) to account for decrease in state aid level, effect on tuition, and benefits already provided to employees.
28) Designate State colleges and universities as employer of record for collective bargaining.
29) Allow state colleges and universities to hire faculty members for a probationary period.
30) Remove classified employers from Civil Service status and include them within each institution’s personnel system.
31) Allow separate workers compensation program management for college and universities.
32) Require only single ballot to each household instead of multiple ballots to all voters residing in household.
33) Move school and fire elections to November.