With property tax bills rising every day, one thing is crystal clear: New Jersey families need real property tax solutions, not sound bytes or slogans.
No one can deny property taxes are an unbearable and unacceptable problem for New Jersey's homeowners. New Jersey's property tax system is regressive, ineffective and noncompetitive with other states, hurting our seniors and middle class families.
As any objective view of New Jersey makes absolutely clear—our property tax system is broken. To fix this system, the Governor has offered a toolkit. Unfortunately, the Governor's toolkit does nothing to address our state's fundamental overreliance on property taxes.
A toolkit is something you use for minor home repairs when you buy a home.
But New Jersey's property tax problem isn't just a fixer-upper. We need to tear the house down and rebuild a tax system that gives New Jerseyans real property tax relief, not just tinker around the edges.
The average property tax bill is now a whopping $7,576 per household, up over 4 percent from last year. Until we dramatically change this broken system, property tax bills will be directly tied to aid the state provides to schools and municipalities.
With the Governor slashing school aid by $1 billion and municipal aid by $446 million last year, it’s no wonder New Jersey families saw their property tax bills grow over 4 percent in 2010.
The 2010 increase under the Governor's policies represented a $1 billion increase in the statewide property tax levy—from $24 billion to $25 billion. Worse, this painful increase does not include expensive tax increases in the form of "student activity fees" for children just to participate in after-school clubs or athletics.
In this difficult economy, New Jersey families can’t afford higher property taxes. The Governor has spoken at length on this point, and I agree. But the proof is in the pudding. In addition to raising income taxes on the working poor, supporting toll and fare increases for commuters, hiking taxes on health care and vetoing bills to create jobs and put New Jerseyans back to work, the Governor has delivered the highest property taxes our state has ever seen.
Granted, these are tough economic times, and our state cannot afford to fund every single need. But budgets are about priorities, and the Governor has made his clear: tax cuts for millionaires while raising taxes on middle class families, seniors, and our most vulnerable to pay for it. That's not the priority of New Jersey families.
Let's be clear, the 2010 increase had nothing to do with a previous administration's policies, nor did it have anything to do with the Governor's toolkit. The two centerpieces of the toolkit—the 2 percent property tax cap and arbitration reform—take effect this year, and I joined with the Governor and fellow Democrats in a bipartisan compromise to support both of these items. Despite these major reforms, property taxes continued to rise, taking a wrecking ball to the idea that tinkering around the edges of our broken system will provide property tax relief to New Jersey families.
Property taxes represent 42 percent of all New Jersey state and local tax revenue, compared to 30 percent nationally. This reflects New Jersey's back-breaking addiction to property taxes to fund local government—a system that puts a huge burden on seniors, middle-class and working families.
I've brought up ideas to get New Jersey off this regressive tax, as have other legislators. Others, the Governor included, have dismissed these ideas with tired partisan sound bytes without giving them a moment's thought. With skyrocketing property taxes threatening to force families out of their homes, now is the time for real property tax solutions, not sound bytes.
We need to start an honest, bipartisan conversation with New Jerseyans to make sure we break New Jersey's addiction to and overreliance on property taxes. I hope the Governor and my fellow legislators will be a constructive part of that conversation. New Jersey's families deserve nothing less, and they can't afford to wait.
Louis D. Greenwald represents the 6th Legislative District in Camden County in the General Assembly. He also is chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.