Opinion: NJ Still Has the Highest Property Tax in US, Here’s Why
It used to be a hot topic on our station. Being the state with the highest property taxes in the nation used to be the number one issue in almost any campaign for public office in New Jersey. Lately, crickets! Why?
Maybe we've fixed the problem or everyone's got so much wealthier and it's not a problem. No, most people have given up hope that it will ever be normal or fair or affordable to most people. There is no one on the horizon with the guts to be honest about it and promise to fix it, with any hope of getting elected in this state. The main reason is the enormous, humongous, overwhelming power on the NJEA and people's insecurity about doing anything to completely overhaul the education system. There are other powerful public unions that cost a lot as well. We talked about it on the air on Wednesday for the first time in a long time, wondering if anyone still cares or knows why it is the way it is. A listener from Burlington County nailed it in this e-mail.
Taxes are high because everyone has a relative --- a finger in the pie --- in NJ government. For instance, there are seven police departments, each with chiefs, cars, arsenals, anti-terrorism military-surplus vehicles (for when Al Qaeda attacks the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge) and outrageous pension and health plans (Would you like a 100%-of-your-salary-pension? Be a suburban NJ cop.), plus unlimited donut-time construction site duty between the Tac-Pal Bridge and Delanco, a distance of about ten miles. Do you not know a friend or relative who's in a New Jersey government job? I don't.
There's 611 taxing school districts, plus well over 500 taxing municipalities, many local utilities with taxing authority, county taxation, state income taxation, sales tax, library tax, fire tax. There are no more fires in suburban NJ, relatively; the fire codes are too strict on new construction (Anything after 1960.). So to pad their "response calls" numbers, local fire departments (with equipment paid for by taxpayers, not fund drives) roll their trucks to any car accident (and their trucks then clog traffic, by the way). Delran fire department steadily logs more than 700 "response calls" a year, two fires a day. It's a fire department. I don't smell smoke every day. One would think, then, that Delran is burning to the ground like the 125-year old wooden buildings in Camden or the 300-year old buildings in Philadelphia. Hardly, of course. So they use these non-fire calls to justify bumping up the fire tax every year. And don't tell me it's also EMT work. Delran is covered by two ambulance companies.
The taxes started shooting up after the stupid NJ Supreme Court ruled on the unfair application of a single phrase in the state constitution: that every child is entitled to, "a through and efficient education." It was a joke at first; they laughed about "T & E." Nobody's laughing now. The Court decided, in their liberal wisdom, that "equal" funding was the only solution and surely, once districts in Newark received the same money as Millburn, why, their standardized tests would show that. Of course, it's parental concern that decides a child's success or failure 90% of the time, not tax money. But when the Court's first premise failed, that of taking money from suburban districts for city districts, they doubled --- quadrupled, actually --- down and decreed Abbott Districts would now help Camden, Atlantic City, Paterson, et al, kids to match Moorestown and Maplewood kids. The Mt. Laurel I and II decisions by the Court, telling towns that anyone who wants to live anywhere has that right, are similarly tax disasters (Delran is being forced to accept COAH housing --- after a lawsuit by a satanic cabal of COAH advocates --- and builders of such housing. Of course. There go the school taxes!).
Judy is right. Mil rates are not standard in NJ. Stone Harbor, and most shore towns, have much lower mil rates than the rest of the state. They nail the tourist with fees and the homes are seasonal mansions, with few children and schools. And tax percentages are not the same. A million dollar house in Alpine pays, percentage-wise of the value, far less than I pay for my $204,000 (assessed-value) home in Delran. If mil rates were standardized --- Supreme Court, where are you?! --- many of us, most of us? --- would pay less. Avalon mansions would pay A LOT more.
Why is it that Governor Murphy and legislative leaders can't take a short trip from the 5th smallest state to the 2nd smallest state, and find out how Delaware gets by without a sales tax, very low property taxes and a modest income tax rate, yet have FREE beaches, nice roads and parks and identical municipal and state services. And Delaware's lack of a sales tax has strangled retail in Salem County. If NJ has to have a sales tax, I'd like to see a 2% across the board sales tax in NJ --- no exceptions for anything. We'd have a flood of shoppers from PA and NY, and I bet NJ would raise the same or more revenue on this simplified sales tax.
You may not like it. You may not agree with it because of your own biases' but it's the truth. So get used to it or get out. Nothing can or will be done about it. If I'm wrong, I will admit it every day on the air and I will legally change my name to Steve Sweeny!