Local leaders talk big issues at League of Municipalities conference

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

It was standing room only at a session on affordable housing at the 103rd annual League of Municipalities convention.

In New Jersey, affordable housing has been an issue handled through settlements and lingering litigation. One lawyer cited a Princeton study to say affordable housing is not a boogieman.

“It hasn’t had any adverse impacts on taxes, property values or crime rates. So for the adults that move to that development, they have reduced exposure to violence, and it has other positive aspects. It increases the economic independence of people that live in there,” said attorney Brian Slaugh.

West Orange zoning officer Geniece Gary-Adams says the city is meeting the challenge and the debate should include millennials, recent college graduates with a lot of debt.

“Because you have millennials moving back, they can’t afford to move anywhere. They’re living with their parents. I have three graduate sons, two live at home. So it affects me personally, and I think it affects every single town. We’re all struggling with the same issues,” said Gary-Adams.

At the convention, some towns adopted resolutions for a workaround to the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deduction. Not one, perhaps because of the unsettled debate on New Jersey’s new law.

In the meantime, Russell Kamp came to the conference looking for SALT workarounds.

“Like many of the small communities, we have to provide quality services. It costs a lot of money for our citizens and we want to make sure that they still have access to the quality services that they’re entitled to. We’re making it more challenging for them. Costs are rising and we don’t have the ability to deduct anymore. It’s really challenging,” said Kamp, a Midland Park councilman.

One official gave an exhaustive workaround explanation and a tip.

“Even if a municipality does not create a charitable fund on its own, a county or school district can decide to do so on their own,” said New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Legislative and Regulatory Affairs officer Jason Martucci.

Another hot topic at the conference was marijuana and towns clamoring for 2 percent of the revenue if and when it becomes law.

“Which is absurd. We need a lot more than that to cover costs, so that’s got to be dealt with. The state has to understand don’t put a burden on our towns if we’re the host town for medical marijuana or for recreational or legalized marijuana,” said Robert Russo, councilor at large for Montclair city council.

Another part of the debate is why it’s taken so long to draft and vote on an adult legalization bill with Democrats in full control in Trenton.

“There are so many new opportunities and new products that are coming out that the lobbyists who are advocating on behalf of legalization want to make sure that they don’t have to worry about regulations for their particular product. They want to get it into the law itself,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s predecessors graded his first ten months in office. There was some disbelief after Murphy raised more than a billion dollars in taxes.

“This 54 percent approval rating that our governor has right now, given that he has ushered in the most progressive agenda that we’ve seen in a generation or two, is really contrary to what a lot of us in this room was the conventional wisdom,” Dworkin said.

And a challenge impeding progress.

“I feel like the acrimonious relationship between Gov. Murphy and the Senate president is a noose around the governor’s neck,” said Montclair State University law and political science professor Brigid Harrison.

Advice for the governor from the panel: Shake up his staff and make more peace with the legislative leadership.