Bill to restore N.J. property tax information removed by Christie administration advances

TRENTON — The key state Senate committee today approved a bill requiring Gov. Chris Christie's administration to restore information about property taxes that it had removed from a state website earlier this year.

The bill (S2056), which cleared the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, would require that the administration post the town-by-town average residential property tax bill, the average homestead credit payment and the net average property tax bill after the credit is applied.

Until this spring, that information was published annually on the Department of Community Affairs website. When the office posted the chart earlier this year, those figures were absent. The department had dropped columns from its spreadsheets that listed average homestead rebates and average net property taxes by community.

NJ Spotlight reported in April that when it tried to get around the omission by using data from 2012 and found that net property taxes — the amount people actually pay, after considering rebates — rose more in Christie’s first term than under former Gov. Jon Corzine, the department removed the information from the 2008 to 2012 tax tables.

Those data paint an unflattering picture of property taxes under the Christie administration that runs counter to the governor’s narrative that he’s ebbed the rising property tax burden. The rate of property tax increases have declined, but so have the rebates earmarked for the elderly and middle-class.

Taking into account the reduction in credits, an NJ Spotlight analysis showed that in Christie’s first three years in office, property taxes rose at a higher rate than under his predecessor.

Removing homestead credits from the equation flips the results in Christie’s favor.

Restoring the information is intended to “illustrate to the public that local spending decisions directly affect local property taxes. It would also help local property taxpayers compare how well their local units of government are doing against local units in other parts of the state,” according to the bill.

Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Middlesex) said today that the bill would promote flawed math. He said property taxes and credit payments shouldn’t be conflated, and that the Democrats are simply trying to make a political point about homestead credits.

“The property tax rebate has nothing to do with what your property taxes are,” he said after the committee meeting. “The state sends you a check, which they call a property tax rebate, but your property taxes are what your property taxes are.”

The math is also misleading, Thompson said, because it doesn’t take into account that the credits are much more prevalent in some communities than in others.

For example, if a municipality’s average property tax bill is $10,000, and just one resident is eligible for the credit and receives $2,000, the data would give the impression that the net property tax burden for that town is $8,000.

“That number is totally fraudulent,” Thompson said.

The committee split 9-2, with two abstentions on the bill, which passed the Assembly in a 73-0 vote in September.

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