League Statement on the Oliver Appointment

November 9, 2017

Trenton, NJ

League Statement on the Oliver Appointment

The League of Municipalities congratulates Lieutenant-Governor Elect Sheila Oliver, first, on her recent election to that post, and second, on her designation as our next Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. And we commend Governor-Elect Murphy on making this appointment.

As Assembly Speaker, and throughout her tenure in the Assembly, she has shown her appreciation for the work done, and the challenges faced, by officials serving on the local level. She has always been open to discuss issues and concerns with local leaders, working through the League of Municipalities.

“We commend Governor-Elect Murphy for making this appointment,” said League President Mayor Albert Kelly of Bridgeton. “For as long as I have known her, she has always been willing to listen to the concerns of all of us, who work, every day, to better meet the needs of our fellow citizens. Those citizens are best served when all of their elected representatives cooperate to advance the general welfare. I promise Sheila that she can count on the League of Municipalities to work with her on many matters of mutual concern. And I know, from past experience, that we can count on her to consider our viewpoint on the many issues she will be asked to deal with at the Department of Community Affairs.  We offer our congratulations.”

 Contact: Michael Cerra, Assistant Executive Director at 609-695-3481 ext. 120 or mcerra@njslom.org

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Deadline for First Local Action on 2020 Census Just Weeks Away

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correct size blogThe U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section II, requires Congress to conduct a census every ten years. And while 2020 may seem like a long way off, the first deadline (December 15) for local governments to ensure a complete and accurate enumeration of their residents is just weeks away.

The Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program is the once-a-decade opportunity for governments to add, correct, or delete addresses on the lists and maps used to conduct the decennial census. It represents the first step to ensuring an accurate and complete count in your municipality. But in order to participate in the Local Update of Census Addresses program, you will need to register, by December 15. The Census Bureau should have already mailed LUCA registration forms and instructions to every municipality. You can also access all the forms and information needed to register at the links available online at the LUCA Operations Page.

The 2020 Census will face a number of challenges. For the first time, the Census Bureau will primarily rely on the internet to conduct the enumeration, though in-person contacts and telephone responses will be allowed. The Bureau will encounter a heightened climate of fear, among both those who distrust any government program and agency, those who are concerned about internet security, the technologically challenged, and among those who might fear arrest or deportation. Inadequate funding means that there will be half the number of Regional Census Centers, half the number of local offices and half the number of census takers.  Finally, the Census Director’s recent, unexpected resignation has created a leadership vacuum at the agency.

A complete and accurate census is needed for a number of reasons. It will ensure equal representation in Congress. This is particularly important in New Jersey, as our State could lose, yet again, at least one seat in the House of Representatives if we are under-counted. It will also ensure a fair distribution of the $600 billion in Federal resources that are distributed, every year, based on population counts. It will similarly affect State redistricting and allocations of certain State aid. And it will help local governments, as they plan to address the needs of local populations.

Registering to participate in LUCA is an important opportunity that every New Jersey municipality should seize. As we move forward, we will work with our partners at the National League of Cities and advise you of educational opportunities and further steps that you can take to protect the interests of your communities. But for now, LUCA registration, by December 15, is a priority.

The New York Regional Census Center (NYRCC), in conjunction with the New Jersey State Data Center (NJSDC) is offering three webinars on the LUCA operation, with a focus on issues that are specific to New Jersey.

NJSDC LUCA Information Page:
http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/census/2020/luca_10_17.html

The webinar schedule:
Thurs. 30 Nov 2017, 1 PM. To register:
https://census.webex.com/census/k2/j.php?MTID=t2bb88ea3d2ac4eadcd3be8916f5bfc2e and register.

Thurs. 7 Dec 2017, 1 PM. To register:
https://census.webex.com/census/k2/j.php?MTID=t7cd3a9ff6fad51bd8f8304b03dc9d7e1 and register.

Tues. 12 Dec 2017, 10 AM. To register:
https://census.webex.com/census/k2/j.php?MTID=tcd417480e41baed89cf7ff95ca42bb05 and register.

Thanks for your attention to this matter and the upcoming December 15 deadline.

Contact: Jon Moran, Senior Legislative Analyst,jmoran@njslom.org,609-695-3481, x121.

House Passed Budget Threatens Local Property Tax Deduction

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Yesterday, in Washington, the United States House of Representative passed a budget resolution, which will allow Congress, as it considers tax reform, to deny citizens the ability to claim a Federal Income Tax deduction for the amount of money they have already paid, in state and local taxes. This deduction, known by the acronym SALT (for State And Local Taxes), has been part of the United States tax code as long as there has been a federal income tax.

Repeal of the SALT deduction would lower home values and constrain New Jersey local budgets, which rely on property taxes to fund essential services and programs, more so than municipalities in any other state.

On Wednesday, we asked you to contact your representatives, in opposition to the resolution. Thanks to those of you who did, eleven members of New Jersey’s twelve member delegation voted against the proposal, because of the threat it poses to preservation of the SALT deduction.

 We thank Representatives Gottheimer, Lance, LoBiondo, MacArthur, Norcross, Pallone, Pascrell, Payne, Sires, Smith, and Watson Coleman for their support. If your municipality is in any of the Districts that they represent, please express your gratitude for their consideration.

The fight to preserve SALT goes forward.   The House is scheduled to release a draft tax reform bill next week. From there, it will go to the Ways and Means Committee. We will let you know what actions are needed, once we are able to evaluate that proposal.

 Contact: Jon Moran, Senior Legislative Analyst, jmoran@njslom.org, 609-695-3481, x121.

Action Needed Today to Protect NJ Taxpayers and Municipalities

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Tomorrow, the United States House of Representative will be asked to vote on a budget resolution. If passed in its current form, that budget would allow Congress, as it considers tax reform, to deny citizens the ability to claim a Federal Income Tax deduction for the amount of money they had already paid, in state and local taxes. This deduction, known by the acronym SALT (for State And Local Taxes), has been part of the United States tax code as long as there has been a federal income tax.

Repeal of SALT would lower home values and constrain New Jersey local budgets, which rely on property taxes to fund essential services and programs, more so than municipalities in any other state.

As a local leader, committed to what is best for your citizens and your municipality, please contact your Congressional District’s Representative in the House today.  Sending a strong message of opposition to the elimination of the SALT deduction will help to ensure that New Jersey’s entire Congressional delegation will refuse to support any bill that puts this deduction at risk.

Take action today:    Please call your member of Congress (202) 224-3131 and urge them to protect  SALT.

Here are talking points from Americans Against Double Taxation below, which is working closely with the National League of Cities (NLC) and the US Conference of Mayors:

Property Tax Deduction Background and History

  • The Federal Income Tax Code allows filers to claim a deduction for the amounts they pay in State and Local Taxes. This deduction, known by the acronym SALT (for State And Local Taxes), has been part of the United States tax code as long as there has been a federal income tax.
  • SALT is one of the six original federal tax deductions and has prevented taxpayers from paying a tax on money that is already taxed (sometimes called double taxation), and has helped support state and local investments since 1913.

SALT Benefits the Middle Class

  •  Nearly 86 percent of taxpayers who claim the SALT deduction have an adjusted gross income of under $200,000.
  • An overwhelming number of the 44 million taxpayers, who claim SALT, include in that deduction their property taxes (40.7 million), and many also claim the mortgage interest (35.4 million) deduction. Eliminating SALT will diminish the number of itemizers, increase the after tax cost of a mortgage, and is projected to result in a 10% decline in home values, in the immediate term.

SALT Benefits Homeowners

  • Eliminating the SALT deduction would raise taxes on middle class homeowners – even if the standard deduction were doubled. A recent study commissioned by the National Association of Realtors found that homeowners with an adjusted gross income between $50,000 and $200,000 would see an average tax increase of $815 if SALT were eliminated and the standard deduction were doubled.

 SALT Supports the Community

  • SALT helps support public services and vital investments at the state and local level, including infrastructure, public safety, homeownership and education.
  • If SALT is eliminated, vital public sector services will be at risk. This is because the after tax cost to taxpayers of these services will increase, and state and local governments will find it harder to maintain the necessary level of services.

SALT is Bipartisan and National

  • SALT is claimed by 44 million taxpayers in all 50 states, including both Democratic and Republican districts.
  • High-tax states are not receiving subsidies from others as a result of SALT. To the contrary, states that get the highest return on the taxes they send to Washington are mostly lower tax states under the present tax law with SALT in place.

SALT Prevents Double Taxation and Preserves Fiscal Federalism

  • SALT prevents double taxation of Americans by allowing taxpayers to claim a deduction for the state and local taxes they have already paid from their incomes.
  • SALT maintains carefully balanced fiscal federalism by allowing state and local governments to support state and local services.
  •  SALT has been a fixture of the federal tax code and our nation’s fiscal federalism for more than 100 years to guard against double taxation of households and protect the fiscal integrity of state and local governments, and it should remain in the tax code without limitation.

Contact: Jon Moran,  609-695-3481 x121 or jmoran@njslom.org

 

Municipal Courts Could Face Substantial Challenges

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correct size blogDuring this past year, municipal court operations have been the subject of intense scrutiny in the media.  In November, 2016, reports in the Asbury Park Press referred to “The Municipal Court Cash Machine” and argued that municipalities have ‘too much control’ over local courts. A December Star-Ledger editorial questioned the use of license suspensions to enforce compliance with court orders.  Then, earlier this year, both the State Supreme Court and the Bar Association established formal study groups to review municipal court operations, fines, and fees.

Over the years, a number of bills have been introduced to change the way municipal courts are staffed and organized. A bill in the current session, A-4418, would give Freeholder Boards the power to seize jurisdiction from municipal courts. Under the provisions of this bill, locally elected and locally responsive governing bodies in the county would have no real choice, but to rubber stamp a county decision to create “county-municipal courts,” with unlimited, countywide jurisdiction.

According to this bill, after action by the Freeholders, each municipality within a county that establishes a county-municipal court would have to agree, within two years, to have violations heard in the new court. A municipality that agrees to the county’s, would not be responsible for any administrative costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the new court. However, if a municipality failed to agree within the two-year period to have violations heard by the new court, the Assignment Judge of the vicinage for the county would order that any violations occurring in the non-compliant municipality be heard in the new court, and the municipality would be responsible for all administrative costs specified in the judge’s order until such time as it agreed to have violations heard by that court.  The League strenuously opposes this legislation.

Looking forward to a new Administration and a new Legislature next January, we have no way of knowing what the Supreme Court and Bar Association groups may recommend. It is possible that they could look to take appointment powers away from the local governing body, to give tenure to local judges, or attempt to force consolidation of court operations at another level of government.

Local governments already have a number of options, if they see the need to share this valuable service with their neighbors. They should have that discretion. They should not be forced to cede local control.

We appreciate the dedicated public service of our municipal court professionals. Municipal judges, prosecutors, public defenders and court administrators take their offices seriously and exercise their duties ethically and responsibly. All undergo training before taking office. All work under the jurisdiction of the Administrative Office of the Courts. And, in the case of the court administrators, they are certified and compliant with continuing education requirements. No change in appointment power could improve their performance.

While we share legitimate concerns about the disparate impact that court fines and penalties can have on those least able to pay; we also recognize the need for fines and penalties to represent a real deterrent to behavior that demonstrates a lack of consideration for the safety and welfare of all the members of the community.

Please keep these facts and these challenges in mind, when you speak with your State Legislators.

Contact: Jon Moran, Senior Legislative Analyst, jmoran@njslom.org, 609-695-3481, x121.

 

 

 

Tax Court Ruling on Property Tax Exemption for Disabled Veterans

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correct size blogLast week the New Jersey Tax Court issued a published opinion dealing with the applicability of the disabled veterans’ property tax exemption to certain surviving spouses of qualified disabled veterans.  In Rosanna Pruent-Steven v. Township of Toms River, the court determined that the terms, “widow” and “widower” as they appeared in the State Constitution and the statute, define a person and not a marital status.  Thus, surviving spouses of disabled veterans can be eligible for property tax exemption after they have remarried, provided that they are not currently married at the time they request the exemption.

The issue arose when the municipal tax assessor denied the property tax exemption request from a disabled veteran’s widow, who although currently unmarried, had previously remarried for a period of time after the death of her disabled veteran husband.  In denying the request the assessor relied on the language of the statute requiring certain eligibility requirements, one of which is a certification that the surviving spouse, “has not remarried.”   The assessor interpreted this to mean that once a widow (or widower as the case may be) has been remarried they forever cease to be eligible for the disabled veteran’s property tax exemption, regardless of their current marital status.

The Tax Court disagreed with the municipal assessor’s reading of the statute and instead found that the eligibility for the property tax exemption should be determined using the widow’s current marital status.  By unlinking marital status and widowhood, the Tax Court creates a situation where a widow’s eligibility for the disabled veteran property tax exemption can essentially be paused during periods of remarriage.  This occurs because the Tax Court has determined that once a widow, always a widow and therefore anytime the widow is unmarried they are entitled to the disabled veteran’s property tax exemption.

Municipal tax assessors need to be aware of this new ruling and should ensure that they are complying with the Tax Court’s holding when reviewing exemption requests from the surviving spouses of a disabled veteran.  After this ruling, it is very much possible that previously denied exemption requests would now be approved upon a determination of the current marital status of the surviving spouse.

As of this date, we do not know if the Township will appeal the ruling.

Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, fmarshall@njslom.org or 609-695-3481 x137.

Voters Asked to Approve New Funding for Libraries

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correct size blogOn July 21, the Governor signed PL 2017, c. 149, the “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act.”   This bill, upon voter approval, authorizes the issuance of $125,000,000 in general obligation bonds to finance capital projects at public libraries.    As a result, on Election Day, New Jersey voters will cast their ballots on Public Question 1, the “Bonds for Public Libraries Measure. “

 

Summary:

If approved by the voters:

  • the State Librarian, in consultation with the President of Thomas Edison State University, to establish eligibility criteria for the receipt of grants. The State Librarian, with the approval of the president, will prepare a list of eligible projects;
  •  for any approved project financed by bond proceeds, the grant award will support 50% of the cost of the project, and the appropriate local governing entity in the area served by the public library will support 50% of the cost of the project.
  • local governments are authorized to solicit and receive grants and other funds from any private source to support its required share of the project.

Background

The ballot question reads,

Do you approve the “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act”? This bond act authorizes the State to issue bonds in the aggregate principal amount of $125 million. The proceeds of the bonds will be used to provide grants to public libraries. The grants will be used to build, equip, and expand public libraries to increase capacity and serve the public. A municipality or county that funds a public library would be required to match the grant amount.  The municipality or county may solicit private funding to support its match.

The interpretative statement reads,

Approval of this bond act will allow the State to sell $125 million in State general obligation bonds. Proceeds from the bonds will be used to provide grants to construct, expand, and equip public libraries. Municipalities or counties that fund public libraries will match the grant amount. The municipality or county may solicit private funding to support its match. The State Librarian, in consultation with the President of Thomas Edison State University, will set eligibility criteria for the grants.

The League’s Position

The League has joined the New Jersey Library Association in support of the enabling legislation, particularly since the funding must be approved by the voters.    This will allow, if the voters of the State agree, for much-needed funding to provide for the construction, reconstruction, development, extension, improvement, and furnishing of New Jersey’s public libraries. Specifically, for any approved project financed by bond proceeds, the grant award will support 50% of the cost of the project, and the appropriate local governing entity in the area served by the public library will support 50% of the cost of the project.

If approved this funding can address critical needs. Many public libraries in New Jersey are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other facilities are simply outdated and cannot accommodate modern technologies. And by providing an appropriate revenue source, this funding will diminish the financial impact on the local governing entities.

We would recommend, particularly if your community’s library may benefit from this funding, to share this information with residents.

Other Stakeholders:  The New Jersey Library Association, http://www.njla.org/   & http://njlibrariesbuildcommunities.org/

For more: https://ballotpedia.org/New_Jersey_Public_Question_1,_Bonds_for_Public_Libraries_Measure_(2017)#cite_note-text-1

Contact:  

Michael F. Cerra, Asst. Executive Director, mcerra@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x120.

Local Governments Using Lawsuit in Fight Against Opioid Crisis

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correct size blogA plague of opioid addiction is spreading across our country and leaving many state and local governments scrambling to find the resources needed to deal with the litany of problems this epidemic has fostered.  To that end, local governments throughout the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors whom they feel are culpable, at least to some extent, for the proliferation of opioid-based drug abuse.

These lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies are reminiscent of the suits brought against “big tobacco” in the 1990’s which resulted in a settlement that saw, among other things, the creation a multi-billion dollar trust fund.  The big-tobacco-settlement trust fund is used to reimburse the states for their tobacco-related health care costs as well as for use in efforts to stymie the expansion of the tobacco public health disaster. Local governments are hoping their lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies will provide an outcome similar to the big tobacco lawsuits.

At least two New Jersey municipalities – Paterson and Toms River – plan to file their own lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies.  Their suits are expected to echo the complaints filed against the pharmaceutical companies by various other states and municipalities throughout the country.  The legal theories used by municipalities and other plaintiffs vary and no suit has yet to advance far enough to determine which of these theories could lead to a success in court.  But, one theory has emerged as having the most potential for success – the “public nuisance” theory.  This is the most commonly put forth legal theory and mirrors the one used in the successful, big tobacco lawsuits.

The public nuisance theory is premised on the idea that as a result of pharmaceutical companies’ questionable marketing techniques in conjunction with their understating of the addictive nature of the drugs, companies have created a situation which has caused local governments to incur additional costs to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the public.  No doubt, local governments have seen an increase in drug-related crime and health issues since the beginning of the opioid epidemic and the cost to address these issues has ballooned.  In fact, many first responders now carry and regularly need to use the anti-overdose drug Narcan, as the last lifeline for more and more overdose victims.  While the cost of carrying Narcan can be easily tallied, the total costs to a municipality battling the opioid epidemic are impossible to quantify and it is these costs that the plaintiffs seek to recover.

Monetary damages are not the only thing sought in these lawsuits.  The true goal of the municipalities is to put an end to the techniques employed by the pharmaceutical companies that many believe have led to this national crisis.  Absent addressing that, it is believed any court ruling would be a pyrrhic victory.

The League is working with our national counterpart, the National League of Cities, to monitor the New Jersey lawsuits and those across the country.  We will continue to monitor this important issue and will keep our members updated on any developments.

Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, fmarshall@njslom.org or 609-695-3481 x137.

Governor’s Appointees to the Interest Arbitration Task Force 2017 Report

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correct size blogOn September 28, the 2017 Report of the Governor’s appointees to the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Impact Task Force was released. The report was issued, following the Task Force’s September 25 meeting, where the eight-member committee was deadlocked on adopting the report and delivering it to the Governor and Legislature. All four of the Governor’s appointees supported the adoption and release, while all four legislative appointees were against the adoption and release. The Governor’s appointees decided that the “information was too important to keep from the public” and released the report.

Click here for the report.

And click here for the copy of the report tabs, which includes significant and relevant data.

The Legislative appointees, who are all public safety union representatives, released a statement denouncing the release of the report without their consent.    The Legislative appointees stated that at the same September 25 meeting, a motion was also “made to obtain additional information to provide a clear and concise final report.”   That vote resulted in a 4-4 tie, as well.

The Governor’s appointees to the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Impact Task Force made the following recommendations:

  • Permanently impose the 2% cap well in advance of the current December 31, 2017, expiration.
  • Eliminate the dynamic status quo doctrine to require that increment and longevity schemes cease upon the expiration of a collective negotiations agreement.

This most recent report continues to again demonstrate what the previous Interest Arbitration Task Force reports found; that the “amendments have had a profound effect on limiting interest arbitration to a procedure of last resort, leaving it to the parties to settle labor contracts through direct negotiation and within budgetary constraints.”

In addition, the underlying data continues to show that Interest Arbitration cap works and has not adversely impacted crime rates or recruitment of public safety personnel. In fact, the report also found that while the rates of the police and fire salary increases have slowed, New Jersey firefighters’ average salaries remain the highest in the nation while police officers’ salaries are the second highest in the nation.

The report noted that from 2012 to 2016 there was 90 interest arbitration awards. 36 of the 90 awards were subject to the 2% cap, with an average salary increase of 1.6%. Over the same period of time, 46 voluntary settlements were reached with an average increase of 1.80%.

Using Civil Services data, the report found that there has been an increase in the number of individuals taking both the police and fire exams – a 43% increase in the number of applicants and eligible candidates for police and a 90% increase in the number of applicants and eligible candidates for fire. The increase in candidates is at a time when NJ’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.5% to 5%.

In addition, the caliber of candidates has not suffered. In fact the number of applicants with Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate degrees has increased as follows:

Police:

Year Applicants Admitted to Exam Eligible Candidates Applicant with Bachelor’s Degree Applicants with Master’s or Doctorate
2010 (Pre cap) 26,066 25,526 18,568 4,941 311
2013 (cap) 27,852 26,763 20,443 6,016 511
2016 (cap) 37,393 36,117 26,696 7,812 608

Fire:

Year Applicants Admitted to Exam Eligible Candidates Applicant with Bachelor’s Degree Applicants with Master’s or Doctorate
2010 (Pre cap) 18,170 17,606 6,392 1,984 116
2015 (cap) 19,075 18,365 12,272 2,988 229

 

The report found that using data from the Division of Pensions, the average annual pay for all police pre-cap (2006-11) increased 18.3%, from $75,301 to $89,066. Post cap (2011-16) it increased 4.8%, from $89,066 to $93,360. In addition, using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2012-14, the report found that the average mean wage of police in New Jersey was the highest in the nation. In 2015-16, New Jersey moved to 2nd place behind California.

For all fire personnel, using data from the Division of Pensions, the report found that the average annual pay for all fire pre-cap (2006-11) increased 21.8%, from $78,079 to $95,107. Post cap (2011-16), it increased 4.8% from $95,107 to $99,674. In addition, using US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, from 2013-16 the average mean wage of fire service employees in New Jersey was the highest in the nation.

In regards to crime rates the report found, using data from the Uniform Crime Report, that crime rates fell before and after the cap. Precap (2006-11), there was a 5.8% decrease in crime rates. Post cap (2011-16), crime rates decreased by an additional 22.3%.

Finally, while noting that “it was impossible to cull out and quantify the precise impact of any single one of the major reforms enacted in 2010 and 2011, the dramatic significance of the arbitration award and property tax caps is undeniable.” The report found that the average annual increase in municipal property taxes from 2005-10 (pre-cap) was 7.19% or $129 average per year per taxpayer, compared to 2.41% or $56 per year per taxpayer from 2011-16.

Once again, the underlying data reaffirms the continued success of the interest arbitration cap in containing property tax increases and facilitating negotiations between local governments and the respective public safety unions, including a reduction in the number of petitions, a reduction in open interest arbitration matters, and a reduction in appeals. Further, the data demonstrate that not only has the number of recruits for both police and fire increased, but the number of applicants with Bachelor, Master or Doctorate degrees has also increased, and crime rates have continued to fall.

It is imperative that the Legislature take prompt action to extend the cap when they reconvene. The possible sunset of the interest arbitration cap in December is of great concern, and we look forward to working with our state and public safety union leaders on this issue.

Contacts:

Michael Cerra, Assistant Executive Director, mcerra@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x120;
Lori Buckelew, Senior Legislative Analyst, lbuckelew@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x112.