N.J. solid waste bill passes Assembly committee
NEW YORK - A bill that would help New Jersey counties pay off about $100 million of solid waste debt a year passed the Assemblys Solid Waste Committee on Monday, the committee chairman said.
Under the proposed legislation, counties that are stuck with debt from incinerators or waste transfer stations would receive funds from the state to pay off annual debt service, Assemblyman John Rooney, R-Bergen, said on Tuesday.
Total stranded debt, or debt without a revenue source, is about $1.3 billion, with annual debt service costs at about $100 million, Rooney said.
Counties across New Jersey built the facilities under an edict from the state to become more self-sufficient with their solid waste disposal. But after deregulation of the waste disposal industry in 1997, many communities took their trash to cheaper, out-of-state facilities.
Because the state got the counties into the financial jam, it should bear the burden of helping them out, Rooney said.
New Jersey included $20 million in its fiscal 2000 budget to help with solid waste debt. About $8.3 million of that money went to help counties this year, said Fran Rapa, deputy communications director for Treasurer Roland Machold. An additional $13 million from the general fund is authorised by the Treasurer for solid waste debt, Rapa said.
Another $20 million is proposed for the fiscal 2001 budget. But Rooney said those funds are not enough and only provide last-minute solutions. "Thats basically a bad system if you wait until a county is ready to default and then bail it out," he said.
While Rooney admits his bill is not a perfect solution to the solid waste debt problem facing New Jersey, "Its the only plan on the table with the exception of EICs," he said, referring to environmental investment charges, which would be paid by trash collectors.
The state has advocated the imposition of EICs for municipalities, but Rooney sees that as an inequitable solution that will lead to disparate tipping fees, or dumping fees, among counties.
"Its basically just a trash tax added to your property taxes," he said.
Additionally, municipalities with solid waste facilities would have to increase their tipping fees, creating a disincentive for other towns to dump their waste there.
Several cases including EICs are pending in New Jerseys courts, including a case before the Supreme Court involving Paterson and Passaic County.
The solid waste bill, passed by the Solid Waste Committee on Monday, still needs approval by the Appropriations Committee before heading to the full Assembly. Richard Bagger, R-Union, Appropriations Committee chairman, said he was unsure when the bill would come up for a vote.
Bagger said he has several concerns about the bill, including whether taxpayers would be better served if the state paid off all the stranded debt, or whether it looked at each county on an individual basis.
"If we say up front well pay the whole thing, will we be settling this for more money than we would otherwise?" he asked. "Its a very significant amount. I dont want to overspend."
Also, since a case involving EICs is pending in state Supreme Court, it might be best to wait until that is resolved, Bagger said.
"If current law permits EICs and its working for some counties, Im not sure the state should say well prohibit counties from doing that," he said.
Story by Linda Prospero
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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