Friday, April 28, 2006

Property Taxes- Hightstown speaks out

(Quick background on Hightstown: It's a small town, just over a square mile with 5,000 residents. Hightstown is in a regional school district with East Windsor Township; the voters voted down the school board budget this year and last year. The town councils of both municipalities must now review the school board budget and may make changes before submitting it to the state. Hightstown has the highest property taxes in Mercer County.)

Today is Q&A Friday over at Assemblyman Mike Panter's blog, and he focused on a question from Hightstown Borough Mayor Bob Patten. Well, it isn't a question so much as a plea:

Please initiate a special legislative session to act on much needed property tax reform through a constitutional convention. No need to wait! Do it now... before July. With too many defeated school budgets and unhappy property owners, “It’s the right thing to do!”

The Assemblyman supports a constitutional convention on property taxes, and has his name on ACR-108, a resolution calling for a special session, which he feels would be a faster resolution.

Also from Hightstown, Councilman Patrick Thompson posted a letter on about the school board budget. The councilman is very clear that although he sympathizes with the voters, he will not support any cuts:

Why else will I be respectfully disagreeing with the voters who came out last Tuesday? In addition to the regressive system of taxation that has created this problem, we have failed to adequately leverage our economies of scale as municipal governments, resulting in cumbersome duplications of bureaucracies across the state. The finger-pointing needs to end - we must do better for our tax-payers and must do better for our children. I make this statement cognizent of the fact that I - as a municipal office holder - am a part of this problem.

Finally, I will not supporting any cuts simply because our children's eduction is too important. While I intend to hold (school superintendant) Mr. Bolandi accountable as much as the next taxpayer, it is his job along with that of the school board to chart our course on this front. I like much of what I see so far, but we have a long way to go. We must allow this process to proceed on the established course. I am making the leap of faith to believe that the voters who came out last Tuesday were making a statement about taxes, due I believe to many of the reason I indicate above. Not because they disagree with the current course of our school district. Perhaps we should finally put our munipal tax increases up for public referendum and allow this dissatisfaction to be more holistically and appropriately directed.

The councilman is right. Most voters who voted against school budgets in Our Fair State aren't doing so because of a wish to change the education their and their neighbor's children recieve- it's a knee-jerk reaction to higher taxes. It's the same one Gov. Corzine is experiencing against his proposed budget, the most responsibile budget proposed in this state in at least a decade, probably more.

Two specific ideas were in the items I quoted from this small Central Jersey town's leaders: the mayor wants a convention- now, and the councilman wants us to "leverage our economies of scale as municipal governments"- the nice way of saying we have to rethink the high-holy home rule principle.

Two ideas whose times have come.

Assemblyman, I'm glad you're supportive of the convention. I hope you're supportive of incentives for cost-cutting regionalization as well as negative financial consequences for municipalities who refuse even to study or consider it. Sixty-five percent of residents of Our Fair State would rather see their state taxes raised than their property taxes: we must listen to them, and in a special session if need be, we must reform how our schools are funded from a regressive property tax to a progressive income tax. We have to solidly change the way funding is done now, across the board, including the Abbots.

The one thing we have learned is that we can't keep this up as it is.


The Contrarian said...

You may be interested in supporting this bill introduced by Hudson Assemblyman Louis Manzo, the SMART Property Tax reform bill that has received the support of property tax reform groups AND the NJEA (talk about an odd coalition). The bill would reduce school taxes by about 50 % and is funded through a modest income tax surcharge. It is a revenue-neutral bill, meaning that it should cost the state nothing (unless the Legislature redirects the income tax revenue for something else).

Sharon GR said...

It sounds like a good idea at first, but really it only establishes a new income redistribution- we send the state more money, and they send us a big ol' check for half our property tax. (Politicians do so love to send us big ol' checks.) Costly to administer, too.

I'm waiting for the bill that stops the reliance on property taxes to fund schools. If it was an increase in income tax to fund schools, with a direct effect of lowering property taxes raised for schools, I'm all over it.

Yes, this bill comes closer than what we have now, but we can do better.