Assemblymen Vince Polistina and John Amodeo recently announced the introduction of A-3829, which would amend the Walsh Act to require a public referendum on all municipal bonding. The assemblymen were joined by Margate Mayor Michael Becker.
?The public needs the full powers of a watchdog,? Polistina said. ?Government at all levels is burying taxpayers under mountains of debt and doing so without asking for permission.?
?Taxpayers are rightly upset. They put their trust in elected officials only to see their taxes rise thanks in part to growing interest payments,? Amodeo said. ?If government can?t control itself, then we have to give the public the tools to manage public dollars.?
Last December, Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong ruled the City of Margate, organized under the Walsh Act, did not have to place a bond ordinance for fire station renovations on the ballot since the Walsh Act exempts such matters from public question.
?I always believed the intent of the law was to give the benefit of the doubt to the public and that all bond ordinances in any town should go on the ballot. In light of the court ruling, there is a loophole that has to be closed, and this bill will do that,? Mayor Becker said.
?As Judge Armstrong pointed out, governing bodies can place bond ordinances on the ballot if they want to. The trouble is they don?t want to,? Polistina said. ?We have to change the underlying assumption that government gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to spending public money.?
?Families are looking for ways to cut their personal debts, not borrow more,? Amodeo said. ?They understand we are in tough economic times, so why doesn?t government get it? All the more reason to have the voters make these types of decisions.?
The assemblymen added the issue is not whether Margate?s Fire Station #2 should or should not be renovated. The particulars of the case only highlight the larger policy concern.
?Buy now, pay later is a very dangerous practice of government because it handcuffs future generations of citizens,? Polistina said. ?The elected officials who have passed bond ordinances will be long gone but the taxpayers will have to keep paying the bill. All governments have to be very cautious and prudent when considering incurring debt, no matter the circumstances, because as we are seeing at the federal, state, and now local levels, the day of reckoning comes fast. Nothing this important should bypass a public vote, especially when residents petition for a referendum.?
According to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, there are 30 municipalities currently organized under the Walsh Act.