This editorial was published in the Star Ledger on August 3.
"Senior citizens have been struggling to keep their homes — because of property taxes. Young couples have refrained from buying homes — because of property taxes. Middle-income families are struggling to make ends meet, and in some cases, leaving the state — because of property taxes.
“The voters have told us clearly: The biggest problem they worry about in New Jersey is property taxes. How can we not act to address the people’s biggest worry?”
Those words were delivered by Gov. Chris Christie in 2010 during a special session of the Legislature that resulted in the creation of a statewide 2 percent cap on property tax hikes.
Fast-forward nearly two years and the governor, in his 2012 State of the State address, all but declared a victory on property taxes by saying, “We have restrained the growth of property taxes.” And he capped that off by proposing an income tax cut that would have disproportionately benefited New Jersey’s wealthiest.
The approach of this administration has become abundantly clear: Declare victory and move on — and pray no one notices the truth.
Since that time, the issue of property taxes has all but dropped out of the governor’s vocabulary as he fist-pumps his way across the state, weaving a fabricated tale of an illusory “Jersey comeback.”
The bottom line: In terms of property taxes, New Jersey is worse off than under the previous administration.
The average homeowner has seen a net property tax increase of roughly 20 percent over the past two years, up from $6,244 in 2009 to $7,519 in 2011.
The reasons all stem from the same root cause: the governor’s unwillingness to tackle the toughest problem confronting our state.
Time and again, he has displayed a complete indifference to the relationship between state aid to municipalities and its impact on local property tax levies. Attempts by the Legislature to boost property tax relief programs have been met with the governor’s veto pen.
Take the homestead property tax rebate. The governor’s drastic defunding of this program is one direct factor that has led to the net increase in property taxes.
To help mitigate the blow to homeowners while long-term solutions were sought, rebates increased steadily over the past decade from an average of $245 under Gov. Christie Whitman in 1998 to roughly $1,000 in 2009. Overall, the expanding rebates helped offset roughly one-third of the average property tax bill.
However, under the current governor, homestead rebates were eliminated for calendar year 2010, slashed by 75 percent for 2011 and funded at only 50 percent of the 2010 level for 2012.
If that weren’t enough, he then started raiding towns of funds that were rightfully theirs, funds that directly help offset property taxes.
Energy taxes collected by municipalities that were meant to be used toward property tax relief. Raided. Housing funds designed to help towns fulfill their obligations to provide affordable homes. Snatched. A school funding formula designed to allocate funding to districts based on the individual needs of students. Largely ignored. Municipal aid. Slashed.
Had these funds been delivered to towns in the manner they were intended, then, perhaps, seniors would not be struggling as much to stay in their homes and the middle class wouldn’t be fighting to make ends meet, as the governor himself has noted.
By raiding these funds, no one benefits — except maybe our governor in his desperate pursuit to curry favor as he relentlessly auditions for a spot on the conservative national Republican stage. He touts a precariously balanced budget, with barely a surplus, and yet continues to push for a tax cut we simply can’t afford at this time.
The overriding issue still facing this state is our dysfunctional property tax system. Perhaps, if the governor spent less time auditioning for “Jersey Shore” or the Romney administration, he would realize that his abject failure to address this issue has left residents worse off than they were a few years ago.