As New Session Begins, Lawmakers Look To Ease Property Tax Burden For N.J. Homeowners

State lawmakers on Thursday advanced a package of bills aimed at reducing property taxes in New Jersey, taking the first step toward delivering on promises legislators on both sides of the aisle have been making in recent months to make the state more affordable.

The state Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee unanimously approved six bills that largely target New Jersey’s inflated property taxes and provide financial relief to renters and homeowners.

This comes about two weeks after a new state Legislature was sworn in after a heated November election that saw Democrats keep control of both the state Senate and Assembly but also saw Republicans gain seven seats.

“It is no coincidence that the very first Senate committee hearing of the new legislative session is focused on tackling our state’s high property taxes and making our state more affordable,” Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

Singleton, who chairs the committee, sponsored three of the bills, including S330, which would increase the amount of funding distributed to municipalities in the state from the Energy Tax fund beginning in 2023. The bill requires that municipalities use the new funds to reduce their property tax levy.

Energy taxes used to be collected by individual municipalities until the state began collecting those receipts for the convenience of the public utilities, according to Lori Buckelew, director of government affairs for New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

The state was supposed to pass those funds along to the local governments, but in 2008 that money was diverted to the state’s general fund thanks to a change in budget language, a practice that has continued under both Democrat and Republican administrations, Buckelew said.

“Since 2008, we estimate approximately $14 billion has been diverted from municipalities to the state’s budget,” Buckelew said. “The time has come to restore to local budgets the millions in property tax relief that have been annually diverted to meet the state’s needs.”

The package of bills approved Thursday has bipartisan support and includes Republican-backed legislation, including measures sponsored by Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Ocean, and Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, that aim to ease regulatory burdens for businesses and bolster economic development in the state.

“I appreciate that some of my Democrat colleagues now seem willing to work with Republicans who have long sought to address the affordability concerns of New Jerseyans,” Schepisi said. “It’ll take a bipartisan effort to convince the Murphy administration that a wholesale shift in tax policy is desperately needed to turn the Garden State around.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association voiced its support for the bills and the legislature’s goals of increasing affordability and economic growth in the state.

“Property taxes are a major issue for businesses as well,” said Christopher Emigholz, vice president of government affairs for NJBIA. “Small businesses especially struggle with property taxes. It’s often the biggest tax they pay.”

A separate bill sponsored by Singleton, S343, would provide relief for renters by increasing income tax deductions from 18% to 30% on the amount of rental payments used to pay property taxes.

“Renters pay property taxes too,” Singleton said. “This translates into a $180 million tax cut for those who need it most, working people and low-income families.”

The package of bills will now advance to the full Senate. Both the Senate and Assembly have to pass the measures before Gov. Phil Murphy could decide whether to sign them into law or veto them.

Murphy, a Democrat who won re-election in a closer-than-expected race in November, has also promised to work on making New Jersey more affordable and tax-friendly.

Original Article