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WITH STEVE ADUBATO
Steve Adubato, PhD., is an Emmy Award–winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJTV (PBS) who regularly appears on the Today show, Fox 5 in
New York and WOR News Talk Radio 710. His newest book, You Are the Brand, examines the brand strategies of more than 30 individuals and companies.
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The Property Tax Debate
With no easy answers, it’s time to put every idea on the table.
PROPERTY TAXES IN OUR STATE have been out of control for
decades. There is no quick fix. It took decades to get this bad,
and it is going to take a while to get it right. That’s why all ideas
for property tax relief should be seriously considered.
Among recent proposals is one by the New Jersey League
of Municipalities that proponents say would allow a 35 percent reduction on up to a $20,000 tax bill on your principal
home. According to the League’s analysis, this approach would
reduce property taxes on the average home by $2,700.
At the heart of the proposal is a plan to change the state’s
income tax structure so that more of the tax burden would be
based on an individual’s ability to pay.
“We are not proposing an increase in [income] taxes,” says Ger-
ald Tarantolo, the mayor of Eatontown and chair of the League’s
property tax reform committee. “We are proposing an offset in
taxes that are already in place for education. We are hoping that,
based on empirical data, the offset is less than what we are paying
in property taxes for this purpose.”
On the surface, the League’s proposal sounds reasonable. But
the reaction under the Golden Dome in Trenton—from both par-
ties—has not been positive. When asked
about the plan, Governor Chris Christie
said he would “throw it in the garbage
where it belongs.” Further, he said rais-
ing rates on one’s overall income in an
effort to reduce property taxes was
“gimmicky” and a “pretend prop-
erty tax cut”—which was like taking
“more money out of the taxpayer’s
left pocket, keep a bunch of it and
put a little back in the right pocket.”
Christie has never hidden
his feelings about the League. He
has accused the group of running
“corrupt” conventions and said its
leader—executive director William G.
Dressel Jr.—is “a whiner” whose organization should go out of business.
That’s quite a rant, considering that all
565 New Jersey municipalities belong
to the League, which describes itself
as “a voluntary association created
to help communities do a better
job of self-government through
pooling information resources
and brain power.”
After offering their proposal,
municipal officials said they
might seek a constitutional convention so citizens could vote
on a tax-relief plan if the Legislature fails to act.
Democrat Lou Greenwald, majority leader of the state Assembly, said the call for a constitutional convention is a good idea, because “the people don’t trust us [legislators].” However, he did not
endorse the League’s proposal to change the state’s income tax.
Declan O’Scanlon, the Assembly’s budget officer and a
Republican, opposed the League’s plan. “My concern is that
when money comes into the state, the state does not always
pay it back [to municipalities],” said O’Scanlon. “If it stays local, the community benefits.” He noted that the state had taken
“significant” action to help reduce property taxes by reforming
pension and health benefits for public employees.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle also hail the 2 percent
cap on property tax increases they passed in 2010 as an important
weapon against the rising tide of property taxes.
The League’s proposal deserves careful examination. Tarantolo is convinced that the plan won’t raise taxes and that an appraisal of the latest research would change minds in Trenton. I
say the mayor is dreaming. Even if the Legislature takes up the
plan and the League gets enough votes in both houses, it’s unlikely the governor would change his mind and sign the bill.
Do we need a constitutional convention on the matter? I think not. But we do need a serious conversation.
The bottom line is that our nagging property
tax problem will not be fixed overnight
and might need a combination of solutions. Reining in spending of local
governments and the 2 percent property tax cap helps; the new approach
from the League might also have
value. But other ideas, such as mandatory consolidations and mergers
of smaller New Jersey towns also
deserve consideration. Our overabundance of municipalities is a
key contributor to high property
taxes. But guess what? You won’t
see the League of Municipalities
advocating for consolidation any
No one has a monopoly on
how to fix our property tax
dilemma and no single idea
or proposal, regardless of its
source, should be dismissed.
New Jersey’s property tax
payers simply can’t afford it. ■