If they won

Greg Bean

If there’s one thing we can almost all agree on this week, it’s that the BIG DEAL effort at property tax reform this year is as dead as Chester Watson’s mule. And as everyone who saw it hit by lightning — three times — can attest, that cranky old mule was as dead as dead gets.

Late last week, the Senate and the Assembly were due to discuss eight bills (out of 98 proposals made by four committees studying the matter) that might, or not, wind up lowering our property taxes a skosh. But nobody believes our lawmakers are going to make any real headway this year.

And because Gov. Jon Corzine, who got elected by promising to get tough and make the hard decisions, seems to have completely caved in the face of pressure from the state’s public workers (14,000 of whom took the day off last week to protest potential cuts to benefits, many of them teachers whose absence actually necessitated school closings), there’s not a great deal of optimism that more progress will be made legislatively in 2007.

The governor now says he can make some gains when it comes time to negotiate contracts with those public workers, but I don’t think we should believe him. If he showed us anything last week, it’s that he doesn’t have the will to stand up to the unions and politicians who disagree with him and are prepared to take their fight to the mattresses. He talked the talk, but he tripped when he tried walking the walk.

Which means we’re going to have to take the whole problem out of the politicians’ hands and do it ourselves.

While he was running for office, Corzine said that if the Legislature failed to pass real property tax relief measures by Jan. 1, he would call for a citizens convention to be on the ballot in 2007. Now, he’s even backing off that promise, but we have to hold his feet to the fire.

The sad fact is that taxpayers in New Jersey are never going to get relief if they leave the process of finding a solution in the hands of politicians who are afraid to make anyone with a special interest angry because it might cost them votes. That insufferable reluctance to offend extends to Corzine, who apparently wants to run for president someday and will need the support of those union members who turned out in force last week to protest.

We can’t depend on the Senate to lower our property tax burden. We can’t rely on the Assembly. And it now looks as if we can’t rely on our governor.

That leaves us.

Call or write your Assembly representative or senator today, and demand the call for a citizens convention on property tax reform be placed on the ballot next year. Politicians never like it when the power to make law is taken away from them and placed in the hands of ordinary people, and that’s why citizen initiatives are anathema to them. But in this case they’re leaving us no choice. If our legislators, or our governor, don’t have the spine to make drastic changes in this state’s property tax system, then we’ll have to do it ourselves.

And if they don’t give us that convention next year, we’ll have to throw the bums out and elect a new bunch who will.

•••

File this one under: They’re breaking my heart.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, new Democratic House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland shocked members of that body when he announced that next year, representatives will have to work a longer week than they’re used to working. In 2007, Hoyer said, House members will be expected to be in their seats for votes each Monday by 6:30 p.m. and they won’t finish their business until around 2 p.m. Friday.

Apparently, in years past, the work week started late Tuesday afternoon and ended Thursday afternoon, meaning representatives had to be at work a little more than two full days a week. Now they’re buckling down and will be expected to put in a little more than three-and-a-half days a week.

Incredibly, some lawmakers claim the new requirements will be a burden. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), for example, told the Post she runs her daughter’s Brownie meetings Monday afternoons, and now she’ll have to see if they can move the meetings to the weekend. Others said the new requirements mean they’ll be able to spend less time in their districts and with their families.

I’ll dredge up an appropriate modicum of sympathy — as soon as I stop laughing.

•••

Once again, according to the Web site Baby Center, my name — Gregory — is not on the list of the 100 most popular boys’ names in America. As a matter of fact, it hasn’t made the top 100 since the 1950s and 1960s when lots of women, including my mother, had crushes on Gregory Peck.

The top 10 boys’ names for 2006 were Aiden, Jacob, Ethan, Ryan, Matthew, Jack, Noah, Nicholas, Joshua and Logan. For girls they were Emma, Madison, Ava, Emily, Isabella, Kaitlyn, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail and Hailey.

One hundred years ago the top two names for boys were John and William. For girls they were Mary and Helen. Ethel, I should note, came in at No. 10.

•••

I’ve been in the newspaper business for most of my adult career, and over the years you tend to see versions of the same story over and over again.

One of those stories, and one I particularly hate, is the story that says that while most of us are happy during the holiday season, some of us are sad. I got so tired of seeing that story, in fact, that a few years ago I decreed it would never appear again in one of our publications.

It worked for a while, but then, a couple of weeks past, I was flipping through one of our papers, and there it was again — a story about how to keep from being sad during the holidays. Since then I’ve seen at least a dozen versions of that story in other publications, and even a couple on television.

So I give up. Every year, from now until eternity, I’m going to see stories about people with the Holiday Blues. I can’t stop them from being printed (even in papers I edit). But I don’t have to read them (they make me sad), and neither do you.

So Happy Holidays, dear readers! May God bless and keep you through the coming year.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.