Residents, lawmakers brace for Murphy tax hikes
TRENTON — What is the No. 1 concern of New Jersey residents? Property taxes.
For decades, poll after poll has listed New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes as the biggest thing people worry about. It's been a major reason why New Jersey leads the nation in the number of residents moving out.
Despite this, little relief is in sight. Lawmakers and governors from both parties have failed to substantially address the crushing burden every New Jersey homeowner must bear. This year does not appear to be any different.
New Jersey 101.5 State House Correspondent Michael Symons reports New Jersey's property tax tab ballooned another $639 million in 2018, to nearly $30 billion. (See a town-by-town breakout here.) Former Gov. Chris Christie did cut a bipartisan deal with Democrats to enact a 2 percent property tax cap, and that has held average increases to 1.9 percent; however, the reduction in property taxes homeowners have been begging for never materialized.
When Phil Murphy strides into the assembly chamber Tuesday to deliver his second State of the State address, he is expected to acknowledge our high tax burden, but also talk about the need for more revenue — a.k.a., tax hikes. Murphy believes he can spend his way to lower property taxes.
Last July, Murphy signed sweeping reforms of the school funding formula. Under his plan, there will be a massive redistribution of state aid, and he envisions pumping another billion of our dollars into school funding over seven years. He claims by sending districts more money on the state level, they will need less money on the local level, reducing property taxes.
In theory this sounds good, but there has been little evidence school districts can, or will, constrain spending enough to make a real impact on property taxes. There are also concerns about where that extra billion dollars will come from. With the state already running a huge deficit, higher taxes elsewhere would almost surely be needed to fund the plan.
Getting tax hikes through the legislature is going to be a tough sell for Murphy. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney are already on record saying they oppose any tax hikes. Sweeney has even failed to offer support for a tax hike on millionaires he had supported for the better part of a decade.
Murphy is expected to talk in broad terms during his State of the State address, but promises a focus "on continuing to make New Jersey a better, more affordable place to live." The chamber will applaud the sentiment, but lawmakers are already gearing up for a fight if Murphy proposes the sweeping tax hikes he has hinted will be necessary to fund his costly progressive agenda.
Eric Scott is Vice President, Senior Political Director and Director of Special Projects for New Jersey 101.5. He anchors "New Jersey's First News" and weekday morning newscasts from 5 to 10 a.m., in addition to hosting a bimonthly Town Hall series.
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