COMMENTARY: Property Taxes Are New Jersey’s Ugly Poster Child

When most people achieve a No. 1 ranking, it’s a cause for joy, accompanied by a feeling of pride and a license to bragging rights.

Unfortunately, New Jersey’s ironclad grip on the No. 1 property tax rate in the nation elicits none of these responses. Few issues, if any, evoke such a unanimous feeling of negativity. The refrain is familiar: “They’re too high,” followed by the increasingly popular, “I’m going to move out-of-state.”

New Jersey, whether we like it or not, serves as the nation’s poster child for high property taxes, and this is due to a complex number of reasons.

Scott Drenkard, director of state projects at the Tax Foundation, maintains that “New Jersey’s nation-leading effective property tax rate is largely due to the high number of local municipalities, which increases the cost of local services.”

There are other burdens associated with property taxes, including funding for schools and a broad range of services that our municipalities offer. Both the Tax Foundation and the Fiscal Times report that we have the highest average property tax in the United States. The average statewide property tax rose from $8,161 in 2014 to $8,353 in 2015.

This begs the question: How do we retain our high-quality schools and services that many enjoy while combating the seemingly endless rise in property taxes?

Trust me, I sympathize and relate. As a property owner, I hear the same complaints and feel the same financial pinch that all homeowners do. I also know it is an emotionally charged subject, complicated to explain and filled with vested interests, varying agendas and unique approaches to solving the problem.

From a strategic viewpoint, unless we discover some fiscal unified theory for funding property taxes, the outlook for a solution appears both daunting and bleak. In short, there is no silver bullet.

Yet, as an optimist, I know that there are legislative solutions that, if backed by my colleagues and the public, can mitigate the perpetual rise of property taxes.

When I took office, I was mindful that my constituents would ultimately ask me, especially on this issue, “What did you do and will it work?”

This is why I introduced bill A302, an uncomplicated, fair and doable solution that would restore about $331 million in cuts to energy and tax receipts and those emanating from Consolidated Municipal Property Tax Relief Aid, subtracting aid from municipal property tax levies. Simply put, this would reallocate money that municipalities receive and ensure that they use it to lower property taxes. This is not a gift or giveaway. Our citizens have already paid their “fair share.” And that reduction would be helpful in stemming the rising tide of increased taxes.

This legislation is only one of several bills that other like-minded legislators and I have introduced to confront this issue. These include:

And, as we speak, both houses of the Legislature are in the midst of a thorough examination into overhauling the way we fund public education, one of the biggest drivers of property taxes.

These solutions are broad, varied and reasonable. When taken together as a whole, they would answer our citizens’ demand for real relief.

Whether these bills become law remains the question. With that in mind, I must point out that our citizens, when sufficiently inspired, have the ability to demonstrate their discontent and outrage and evoke change, as we have witnessed on the national level in recent months.

Rather than voting with their feet and leaving, New Jersey residents need to speak up and voice their discontent to their representatives and ask that they join me in supporting these common sense measures.

If we stem the tide of rising property taxes, we will halt a creeping exodus that New Jersey cannot afford.

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