Despite my differences with Councilwoman Beth Mason, I never thought I would write a letter questioning her fiscal responsibility. When the $100M 2009 budget was adopted this spring, Councilwoman Mason wanted a $90M budget. I specifically asked for details, stating that, if her cuts were responsible, I would support them. She declined to name any. Afterwards, she detailed savings focusing on a city wage freeze, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. She should have known, as an experienced council member, that neither the council nor the mayor can do so unilaterally. If enacted, the unions would go to court, correctly charging that this violated the collective bargaining agreement governing municipal employment. Her suggestion would have cost taxpayers unnecessary legal fees on a losing case. Was Councilwoman Mason fiscally irresponsible, or just pandering?
At Governor Christie’s Hoboken town hall meeting, and at the council, she complained about rising NJ Transit fares. Unlike me, she must never ride the train. If so, she would have noticed, at the Hoboken Terminal, the new double decker trains purchased by Governor Corzine. Although expensive, they added additional capacity coinciding with increased transit usage (due to $4 gasoline). Similar to Mayor Roberts, Governor Corzine never paid the bills and kicked the can down the road, saddling NJ taxpayers with an increased bill that Governor Christie was forced to pay. Does Councilwoman Mason want to join this fiscally irresponsible group, or is she just pandering?
Last week Beth Mason demanded that our “$20M surplus” be returned to taxpayers. Sounds great doesn’t it? However, this includes nearly $8M in restricted funds, relating primarily to Mayor Roberts infamous underfunded budget that led to the state takeover. By NJ state law, we must reserve that balance, which is being paid off over the next several years. Does Beth Mason wish to violate state law and ensure that Hoboken does not pay our bills, risking another round of state takeover, or is she just pandering?
What about the remaining $12M? Hoboken’s bond rating is one step from junk, impeding our ability to prudently finance our debt. Councilwoman Mason apparently wishes to repeat the same mistake made by homeowners who financed a long term asset with a short term adjustable mortgage (ARM). When the ARM came due, many homeowners had their homes foreclosed due to the same asset/liability mismatch we employ. Only by having a solid bond rating of at least “A” can we properly finance Hoboken’s debt without county support. Key to obtaining this rating is a surplus equaling 5-10% of budget. That surplus should be enhanced with additional liquidity for repairing piers that collapsed in the Hudson, for example. We can fund emergencies with cash rather than debt, which include interest and fees, paid by taxpayers. Why does Councilwoman Mason want to irresponsibly roll the dice with taxpayer funds? Is she fiscally irresponsible or just pandering? With personnel costs equaling 75% of our budget, that is the only way we can effectively reduce taxes, not through budget gimmickry. All six wards deserve fiscally responsible officials who will tell the truth and not pander. Next May, I hope that’s who voters elect.