Christie pushed on transparency concerns

Lawmakers want to force Gov. Chris Christie's administration to share information about property taxes even when the information is unflattering.

The state Assembly will vote Monday on a bill from Democrats requiring the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs to post on its Internet web page a full summary of property tax data for each calendar year.

The information already is collected by the DCA and it had been posted. But in the spring, when the Asbury Park Press and other media organizations reported on the growth of net property taxes during the Christie years, the department deleted the average homestead rebate and average net property taxes columns from the tax tables for 2008 through 2012.

The Republican governor has championed caps on tax increases, which helped stabilize raw property tax bills, but relief programs have been weakened, thus adding to statewide tax average hikes.

For instance, elderly, disabled, and low-income taxpayers enrolled in the state's homestead rebate program were supposed to receive a tax bill credit last month. But the funding of the $395 million program has been delayed until May.

The office of Christie's DCA commissioner, Richard Constable, did not respond to a request for comment, but Constable has said the rebate information disappeared because "it gave the perception that every taxpayer in New Jersey received a rebate."

Constable said the information is available upon request.

"A rebate has nothing to do with one's tax bill. It is simply an offset that you can use to pay things entirely unrelated to the tax bill," he said.

The administration this month also tightened information coming out of the Treasury Department, which stopped releasing monthly cash comparisons between how much the state has raised and how much the administration had forecast.

The reporting change came after two Wall Street agencies lowered the state's credit rating and flagged inaccurate revenue forecasts.

Monday's vote on Bill A-3223 would be the first step in mandating that the DCA publish "the amount of the average residential property tax bill for each municipality in the state, the amount of the average homestead credit payment credited against the average property tax bill, and the net average residential property tax bill.''

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Bergen County Democrat Paul Sarlo, also requires action before the measure is sent to Christie.

"It's a little bit troubling that the information has disappeared,'' Sarlo said.

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