Find the Op-Ed feature in the June 10, 2018 edition of the Star Ledger or online at NJ.com
By Kevin J. Rooney
Will somebody please get serious about lowering taxes?
A Monmouth University poll recently found the unsurprising fact that New Jerseyans are more concerned about their nation-high property taxes than any other issue in the state. The second biggest concern is all the other taxes we have to pay.
Yet, our governor has presented a budget that intends to raise taxes by $1.7 billion, with over $729 million of that tax hike being forced on the low- and middle-class by increasing the sales tax and expanding it to Uber, Lyft, AirBNB and online shoppers.
In the meantime, his budget reduces overall property tax relief by keeping state aid from municipalities and cutting rebates for low-income families, seniors and the disabled in half. But don’t worry taxpayers; the money Gov. Phil Murphy is cutting from property tax relief will be going toward raises for the public unions who got him elected.
For decades the number one issue in New Jersey has been our incredibly high property taxes. So lowering property taxes should be his number one priority.
But it’s not.
Instead, Murphy talks out of both sides of his mouth. First he talks about the state’s budget problems then proposes spending that costs a billion dollars more than his misguided tax hikes. His plan to prop-up his budget is no different than the past governors he criticizes for passing on this mess.
The plan will divert half of the money from an environmental settlement with ExxonMobil to prop-up his budget, in direct contradiction to his campaign promise to use environmental money for environmental purposes. Those New Jersey values he likes to talk about aren’t reflected, because Murphy is not only breaking a promise, he is blatantly disregarding the will of the voters who elected him. Those same voters constitutionally dedicated environmental money for environmental purposes just last year.
Murphy will also use money the state received from a settlement with Volkswagen to prop-up his budget, and he raided affordable housing funds so towns with court-ordered obligations have to put the entire cost burden on property tax payers who are unwillingly being forced to build housing that is not wanted or needed.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver made it clear what the problem is while addressing the Assembly Budget Committee. She said the governor “probably had no idea” as a candidate last year just how bad the state’s budget problems really are.
He seems fine with having no idea of what the state’s budget problems are. New Jersey has been cited as being in the worst fiscal condition in the nation, with our state’s long-term finances having been referred to as “dire.” While we can’t pay for all of the programs we have now, Murphy is piling on with new unaffordable programs.
In addition to free community college, universal pre-K, financial aid for unauthorized immigrants and salary increases for his cabinet officials; Murphy has recently proposed giving science, technology, engineering and math employees, but nobody else, student debt relief. The employers will even be required to match whatever amount the state reimburses.
All of these extravagant programs are well intended, but they are very irresponsible and clearly show that his attention is on an unrealistic New Jersey utopia rather than a state in dire straits whose residents just want somebody to lower their property taxes.
Murphy and his Democrat colleagues have even become somewhat hypocritical about property taxes.
While continually complaining about the federal government capping property tax deductions at $10,000, Democrats ignore that the cap was modeled on what New Jersey already does.
The common-sense response is to eliminate New Jersey’s own $10,000 cap to help residents who get hit by the new federal cap. That would provide immediate property tax relief for our residents. Unfortunately, that idea has been voted down four times by Democrats, who have controlled the legislature since 2001.
In its place is a superficial scheme to create government charities that would give tax credits for contributions. The scheme won’t work because the IRS has to recognize a charitable organization before it becomes legitimate. That is a hard sell when there is no real charitable intent and a public campaign parading this plan as an escape from federal tax policy.
In fact, the IRS has already given notice to states that the scheme won’t work. So Murphy will just entangle the state in another costly lawsuit — there are 30 –against the federal government on the taxpayer’s dime.
Murphy is out of tune with state taxpayers. He is redirecting funds against the public will and using the same gimmicks that he claims got the state in this mess in the first place. And with three weeks left to sign a balanced budget, he still plans to raise taxes and spending and provide less relief.
Kevin J. Rooney, a Republican, is an Assemblyman representing parts of Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties in the 40th Legislative District.