Why are NJ property taxes the nation’s highest?

By: William Eames

For many years, the Tax Foundation has listed New Jersey as having the nation’s highest property taxes.

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 [1]  Why are they so high?  And why do most folks believe they are powerless to do anything about it?

      First, is it true?  NJ property taxes are higher, per capita, than others.  The Tax Foundation’s ratings[2] rank New Jersey #1 in the nation (highest property taxes per capita) for each of the past five years.

  • 2018:  NJ ranks #1 (highest) in property taxes; #50 (worst) in overall tax climate. (data from 2016)  For reference, in property taxes, California ranks 34th!

  • 2017:  NJ ranked #1 (data from 2015)[3]; In overall taxes, NJ Ranked 50th (worst).

  • 2016:  NJ ranked #1 (highest property taxes per capita)(data from 2014)[4]

  • 2015: NJ ranked #1 (highest property taxes per capita)(data from 2013)[5]

  • 2014:  NJ ranked #1 (highest property taxes per capita)(data from 2012)[6]

Seven Key Reasons

      Most folks tend to blame our high property taxes on schools or the “Mount Laurel” school funding decisions by the courts.  But there are other causes.  Susan Livio of NJ Advance Media, writing last year for NJ.com[7], listed these:

  1. Our population density – of the states, NJ has the highest population density.[8]

  2. High labor costs – in the Industrial Era, it was demand that produced high labor costs, but during the Progressive Era and beyond, labor rules and guaranteed benefits have put us near the top.

  3. Generally high cost of living – The population density, proximity to both New York and Philadelphia, and demand for housing, utilities, high quality medical services … all boost costs.

  4. Property taxes pay most of the costs – While New Jersey taxes just about everything imaginable, it has historically grouped municipal operations, county operations, the lower courts, jails, and schools under the “property tax” umbrella.  In other states, some of those costs are paid by sales taxes or local income taxes.

  5. Home rule – This is a point of debate.  Some argue having 565 municipalities, 21 counties and 605 school districts increases costs; others argue that having decision makers close to the taxpayers (“we know where you live”) helps hold spending down. 

  6. Public worker pensions & health care costs – This is not in dispute.  The public policy decisions in the 1930s and 1940s to allow governments to offer defined benefit pensions and lifetime health benefits to public employees … and often keep those costs off budget … are now wreaking financial havoc.  Those policies allowed governments to skip putting money into pensions and health funds paycheck by paycheck, and allowed them to pass costs forward, only paying once folks retired.  Kick the can down the road.  This is changing slowly, but the damage of under-funding these programs may result in fiscal insolvency in the next decade.

  7. Education costs – New Jersey has good schools, based on the reports.  But it costs a lot to get those results, and decisions in the 1970s to significantly boost starting salaries boosted costs significantly.

A Deeper Look

      But if we take a deeper look, our position as one of the original colonies, as a center for the Industrial Revolution, and our dubious reputation for hosting several of the world’s most progressive liberals (think Woodrow Wilson) all play a role.  Consider:

  • In 1875, the 1844 NJ Constitution was amended by adding the infamous “thorough and efficient” clause:  “The [NJ] Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in this State between the ages of five and eighteen years.”  This obligation was carried forward, verbatim, into the 1947 rewrite of the NJ Constitution.  The intent was an outgrowth of this colony’s Quaker origins, and a recognition of the importance (as observed by Alexis de Tocqueville) of enabling each citizen to read.  At the time, the verbalized intent was for the State to pay education costs.  But almost immediately, the State began pushing those costs to towns.

  • New Jersey’s own Woodrow Wilson, - as president of Princeton University, then as governor of NJ, 1911-1913, then as President – brought us Progressive policies and liberal labor benefits.  (Including but not limited to labor agreements as policy, like project labor agreements and arbitration, creation of the NJEA and other ‘mandated fee’ associations.)

  • In 1947, New Jersey’s Constitution was radically revised.[9]  The process was steered by self-admitted progressives within the legal and court system, who openly bragged of their desire for independence for the Courts and of their Progressive leadership and insight.  Chief among the revisions was a complete reorganization of the judicial branch, abolishing the state’s former judicial system and its replacement with an entirely new and independent judicial structure.  Heavily influenced by a well-known and politically powerful attorney named Arthur Vanderbilt, by 1950 the NJ Supreme Court had proclaimed itself as having the exclusive authority to control its own affairs, to interpret the NJ Constitution and to exercise unprecedented new rule-making powers “not subject to overriding legislation.”

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  As Chief Justice, Vanderbilt wrote more than 200 opinions, always advocating for a living/breathing judicial system not bound by past precedent or “old” legal doctrines, but one that was responsive to society’s contemporary needs.  That legacy includes court rule-making such as the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and the Abbott school district funding issues.

  • In 1972, a group of enterprising attorneys, urban school districts and cities sued the State and Gov. Cahill[10], alleging that the State’s system of funding free public schools was unconstitutional, namely, whether the equal protection and education clauses of the State Constitution were being violated by New Jersey's statutory financing scheme.[11]  According to the court, the argument was that the then-current system of financing public education in New Jersey relied heavily on local property taxes, producing wide disparities in educational expenditures.  The plaintiffs contended that public school education is a state function which must be afforded to all pupils on equal terms. But the state was funding districts on a formula basis that was not “full” funding – forcing each town to tax property to make up the difference (sometimes nearly 80% of the school budget). Thus, actual spending per pupil varied significantly, which they argued violated the “thorough and efficient” clause, as well as the “equal protection” clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. The Court used statistics to document “a distinct pattern in every county in the State. In most cases, rich districts spend more money per pupil than poor districts,” and argued that “most of the poorer communities must serve people of greater need because they have large numbers of dependent minorities.” The Court ruled that “The Education Clause was intended to do what it says, that is, to make it a state legislative obligation to provide a thorough education for all pupils wherever located.” 

    In the 1975 Robinson v. Cahill decision, New Jersey’s Supreme Court began to exercise “the unprecedented new rule-making powers not subject to overriding legislation” that it had given itself through interpretation of the 1947 Constitution. The Court said, “each child in the State has the right to an educational program geared to the highest level he is capable of achieving, permitting him to realize his highest potential as a productive member of society.” It also said, “that pupils of low socio-economic status need compensatory education [greater funding than others] to offset the natural disadvantages of their environment.” … “Providing free education for all is a state function. It must be accorded to all on equal terms,” the Court said.

   The conclusion was, “The State must finance a "thorough and efficient" system of education out of state revenues raised by levies imposed uniformly on taxpayers of the same class.”  The Legislature and Governor were directed to come up with a new tax plan to equally fund the education of every student.  They didn’t.

  • By 1985, the inequities had not been resolved, and a new lawsuit was filed, “Abbott v. Burke”.  This time, the Court named 28 specific school districts (commonly called “Abbott districts”[12]) “that were provided remedies [by the court] to ensure that their students receive public education in accordance with the state constitution.”

  • In 1990, another lawsuit was filed which became known as “Abbott II”.  The Court ordered the state to fund the (then) 28 Abbott districts at the average level of the state's wealthiest districts.

A Wikipedia article[13] summarizes in this way: 

Abbott districts are school districts in New Jersey covered by a series of New Jersey Supreme Court rulings, begun in 1985, that found that the education provided to school children in poor communities was inadequate and unconstitutional and mandated that state funding for these districts be equal to that spent in the wealthiest districts in the state.

The Court, in Abbott II and in subsequent rulings, ordered the State to assure that these children receive an adequate education through implementation of certain reforms, including standards-based education supported by parity funding. It added various supplemental programs and school facilities improvements, including to Head Start and early education programs.

      In the time since these decisions, many structural changes have been made, and vast amounts of public money have been spent.  But property taxes remain the highest in the nation, most funding from schools is still from the property tax, and school funding is anything but “equal.”

      Finally, Federal tax policy that favored a few “high cost” states, allowing them to write off property taxes against federal income tax obligations, allowed a few states including New Jersey to skirt responsibility for their spending.  There are arguments on both sides of the recent tax changes that took this write-off away, but while it lasted, it gave New Jersey towns the ability to spend more while lessening the threat of taxpayer revolt.

Why do most folks believe they are powerless to do anything about high property taxes?

      Many citizens say they’re not actively engaging in policy issues because they’re too busy and stressed from all the obligations of living in such an intense part of the country.  While we’re all stressed, in my experience, it would be more accurate to say the obstacle is that they’ve never gotten involved.  That’s not a criticism, but an observation.  When we run orientations, or take “newbies” to a public meeting or to a legislative hearing, they often report that it wasn’t intimidating at all. 

      Many volunteer to go to another, or to several, because the “live action” beats television any day of the week … and there are no commercials.

      This, however, is very serious business, with very serious consequences for Christians, Jews, and ordinary citizens.  That’s because those who can gain from the favors of legislators work every day to assure their future economic benefit.  More often, these days, their efforts also restrict our freedoms.

      Want some fun?  Research the origin of this quote:  “If not us, who?; If not now, when?”  But it deserves some really serious consideration.  “Politics” is the civil side of policy.  You can be absolutely certain of another quote by Edmund Burke:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  You can rest assured that evil men are active.

      The Center for Garden State Families is a starting point.  But a few active citizens isn’t enough.  Emails to legislators are good, but they’re not enough.  A check for $25 is good, but it isn’t enough.

      Get involved.  No experience necessary.

      God Bless.

# # #

[1] The Tax Foundation, Tax Foundation

[2] The Tax Foundation, 2018 Facts & Figures

[3] The Tax Foundation, 2017 Facts & Figures

[4] The Tax Foundation, 2016 Facts & Figures

[5] The Tax Foundation, 2015 Facts & Figures

[6] The Tax Foundation, 2014 Facts & Figures

[7]see http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/02/7_reasons_why_njs_property_taxes_are_highest_in_us.html

[8] see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population_density

[9] see https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/courts/supreme/vm/vanderbilt.html

[10] Robinson v. Cahill litigation

[11] see https://law.justia.com/cases/new-jersey/appellate-division-published/1972/118-n-j-super-223-0.html

[12] see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbott_district

[13] see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbott_district

*Mr. Eames has worked as an instructor for the Center for Self Governance and has been a candidate for NJ Senate, LD 27.  He has served as CEO of the New Jersey Tooling & Manufacturing Association and the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce.

Ending School Shootings and Suicide

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Many years ago, back on June 6, 1956, the townspeople of Minoa, NY gathered together in the high school auditorium in what was described by event emcee and WFPL radio personality Bill Tharp as the “largest gathering he’s ever seen in the town”. The event was to honor Frank Maxwell on his retirement as a teacher and principal. Through meticulous planning and research, a “This is your Life – Frank Maxwell” program was presented with scenes of Mr. Maxwell’s life and testimonials from notable guests consisting of family, friends, colleagues and former students all providing their fondest memories. The entire town pitched in to buy Mr. Maxwell a new TV and a brand-new Oldsmobile to enjoy during his retirement.

Among the testimonials from former students were stories about how Mr. Maxwell saved school documents during a school fire by charging into the building and recovering important records and barely making it out alive. How he would personally drive the high schoolers to sports events and farm show contests. But the most compelling testimonials would be from students who were, what we would call today, at-risk students. These students shared stories of difficulties in their youth that were leading them to a life definitely heading in the wrong direction. Many of these kids were poor, but some were not. Some came from intact families, some not. All of them had one thing in common – a story of how the high school principal never gave up on them. Of how he would visit them at their homes and kept in touch with them long after graduation to monitor their progress. They all attributed whatever success they had in life to the personal intervention of Mr. Maxwell.

There were no school shootings, bombings or suicides at Minoa High School during those years.

Join us in making schools a safe place for your children.  

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Flash forward 62 years to the present day and what do we have?

High schools built to industrial-size scale that are overcrowded, overstimulating, and alienating to many students. You have an army of school counselors, psychologists, assessors, consultants, lawyers, networks of alternative schools to serve the needs for so called at-risk students.  You have taxpayer-funded professional resources that are seemingly unlimited. Yet, as we know we still have students so angry, so despondent, so alienated, so fraught with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness that they direct their destructive actions inward and commit suicide, or outward and engage in school shootings or bombings. This is all too common across the country.

Exhibit 1 is the tragic story of Nikolas Cruz. We note the early diagnoses of autism, developmental delay, and ADHD. He experienced the trauma of watching his father die of a cardiac arrest at the age of 5. We are aware of the endless bullying and ridicule he endured at home and at school. We are aware of the long record of anti-social and violent behavior triggered by the trauma of being bullied and ridiculed in the public-school system.  We know of his transfer to a school for special-needs students, Cross Creek, where for two years, free of the bullying and ridicule, and taken under the tutelage of a caring industrial arts teacher, he improved. The violent outbursts dissipated. Tragically, as it turns out, after two years he was returned to the mammoth public-school system (why?) where he was traumatized all over again with another round of abuse. Thus, began another set of school transfers but by now it was too late. The public school special education system failed him. Through his final school years professional after professional worked with him –  at arm’s length. All the right boxes were checked and procedures followed.  Yet apparently no one really wanted to get their hands dirty, make a personal investment in the boy, and protect him from the mistreatment. The end result was predictable. Either the anger and despondency would be directed inward – resulting in suicide, or outward, resulting in shootings of bombings.   Then as standard procedure would dictate, comes the heartfelt letter of remorse sent out to the community from the superintendent, just to show how much he cared and how the district is responding with grief counselors. Too little too late.  

Join us, be informed about what is going on in public schools regarding your children.  

DONATE TODAY!

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Although many systems failed Nikolas, and much is said about lax gun laws, or failed police or FBI surveillance, little attention is directed towards a public-school system where children with special needs are attended to in a legal sense to avoid lawsuits, but are not truly valued and supported with their best interests in mind. Instead of box checking, superintendents and principals need to take personal responsibility for the students under their charge and quickly address situations where kids are alienated, mistreated, or abused by their classmates and do something about it.  

They should be held personally accountable, even to the point of dismissal, for the educational environment they provide for their students. They need to take a personal interest in all students and return any lost sheep back to the herd. Superintendents, principals, and staff should be trained accordingly and become trauma-informed so that clear signals are not overlooked, ignored, or buried to protect the staff and district reputation.   In short, we need to return to the Frank Maxwell model that worked so well of caring and nurturing every student to make them feel like the unique, precious and unrepeatable children that they are.  Long before the legal and law enforcement systems failed Cruz, the public-school system failed him even worse.  This youngster could and should have been saved and the killings prevented.  Society paid a horrible price for passing a youngster along at arms-length from school to school, from counselor to counselor, without the sincere attention, support and guidance of a school official like Frank Maxwell. 

No matter how large the school, each student must be provided with a school environment whereby they feel safe, secure, respected and are free of any type of bullying and harassment.   
 
We need to return to the Frank Maxwell model that worked so well in years past. If direct accountability and personal responsibility were to be ingrained in the public school system then there would be no need to discuss arming teachers, or changing gun laws. A basic attitude change is what is most needed.  In the Parkland shooting all the recriminations have been directed at law enforcement.   But long before the legal and law enforcement failed Nikolas Cruz, the public-school system failed him even worse.  

Please consider helping us defend the family

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Oroho leads fight to end Human Trafficking of children

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a global problem that is happening in communities across New Jersey.  The commercial sex industry targets children regardless of their gender.  Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurs when individuals buy, trade, or sell sexual acts with a child; and sex trafficking is "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act... in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age."  

Children become victims through interaction with predators.  Traffickers target vulnerable children and lure them into prostitution and commercial pornography using psychological manipulation, drugs, and/or violence.  75% of all children who are trafficked were lured into sexual exploitation through Internet porn.  There is an inseparable link between pornography and human trafficking. Children have been kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened and coerced into doing porn, which is by definition, sex trafficking.

On Monday, January 23rd, the Human Trafficking & Child Exploitation Prevention Act was proposed in both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly.  It was proposed in the Senate (S-2928) by Senator Steve Oroho, and in the Assembly (A-4503) sponsors include Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, Assemblyman Parker Space, and Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin. 

This legislation requires Internet-connected devices to have digital blocking capability that can only be removed by an adult and would make it unlawful "to manufacture, sell, offer for sale, lease, or distribute a product" that makes pornographic content accessible "unless the product contains digital blocking capability that renders" certain obscene material "inaccessible" and ensures that "all child pornography and revenge pornography is inaccessible on the product... prohibits the product from accessing any hub that facilitates prostitution; and render websites that are known to facilitate human trafficking... inaccessible."

Any digital blocking capability could be disabled by an adult consumer by (1) requesting same in writing, (2) presenting identification to verify age, (3) acknowledges receiving a written warning regarding the potential danger of deactivating the digital blocking capability, and (4) paying a one-time $20 digital access fee.

The fee will be collected by the manufacturer or distributor and then forwarded to the New Jersey State Treasurer.  Proceeds will fund the operations of the Commission on Human Trafficking and the Attorney General's office.  The legislation allows the manufacturer or distributor to pay the $20 opt-out fee instead of the consumer.

The legislation also requires manufacturers and distributors to establish a reporting mechanism -- a website or a call center -- to allow consumers to report unblocked obscene material or blocked material that is not obscene.

The legislation was fashioned using directives from the United States Supreme Court regarding the use of digital blocking or filters.  Great attention was paid to the arguments of the ACLU and others when fashioning this legislation. 

The Human Trafficking Prevention Act is a nationwide, bipartisan effort to cut-off the grooming and trafficking of children into prostitution through commercial, for-profit pornography.  New Jersey Senator Steve Oroho gave the legislation the name it is known by and it is being proposed in each of the 50 states.  For a full list of the legislation and its sponsors in each state, go to this website:

http://humantraffickingpreventionact.com/

“Sexually exploiting children causes long term, if not lifelong damage and confusion,"  Said Rev. Greg Quinlan of the Center for Garden Sate Families.

For more information on how to organize to support the Human Trafficking & Child Exploitation Prevention Act in New Jersey, visit the Center for Garden State Families at http://www.gardenstatefamilies.org/.

Decision America Tour coming to Trenton Wednesday September 14, 2016

In cooperation with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, The Center for Garden State Families is calling the faithful to our state capitol for prayer. The event begins sharply at 12 noon.

Capitol Front Plaza, 125 W State Street Trenton, NJ 08608

Our nation is in danger. Not only from forces abroad, but from the moral decline from within. It is time to search our hearts and repent for our nation and seek His forgiveness.

We the people are the catalyst for change. Only those whose who are called by His name can truly bring about a move from the Creator of all things. May God have mercy on us once again.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14:34

Hoping to see you at the prayer rally.


“Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people” Proverbs 14:34
 

Visit us on the Web www.gardenstatefamilies.org

Or email us at info@gardenstatefamilies.org

Rutgers bosses stonewalling about PAC

While the boss of the Rutgers SuperPAC makes fashion statements, the Rutgers President and the Chairman of its Board of Governors hide out from public scrutiny.

Three weeks ago, religious leader and family rights activist Rev. Greg Quinlan wrote to Rutgers President, Robert Barchi, and Chairman of the Board of Governors, Greg Brown.  Rev. Quinlan's letter was very respectful.  Like any taxpayer of New Jersey, he wanted to know how Susan McCue, as a member of the Board of Governors, can run a Super PAC whose sole purpose is to influence the election of legislators in New Jersey.  Those same legislators who are responsible for taxing and spending money on behalf of Rutgers.

Rev. Quinlan has yet to receive the courtesy of a reply from these two "role models for the leaders of tomorrow."  Does having a position of power give you the right to display contempt for the ordinary citizens who fund your institution and its salaries, perks, and benefits?  Apparently it does -- and apparently this is what they are teaching at Rutgers these days.

We have been assured that the issue is not going away and that eventually, Messrs. Barchi and Brown will have this placed under their noses so much and so often that they will end up commenting on it, if only by mistake.  Watch... and see if we are not correct. 

Here is the letter:

 

Garden State Families

Rev. Greg Quinlan, President

October 21, 2015

Mr. Robert Barchi, President

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

83 Somerset Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1281

Mr. Greg Brown, Chairman of the Board of Governors

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Chairman & CEO

Motorola Solutions, Inc.
1303 East Algonquin Road
Schaumburg, Illinois 60196
 

Dear Messrs. Barchi and Brown: 

I would like to bring a serious conflict-of-interest to your attention. 

Susan M. McCue -- of Alexandria, Virginia -- is currently serving as one of the 15 members of the Rutgers' Board of Governors responsible for policy and oversight of the University.  Ms. McCue is a political consultant who controls a business called Message Global LLC, where she serves as President. 

Susan McCue is also President of the General Majority PAC -- an organization that in the last two election cycles has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat or elect members of the New Jersey Legislature.  This is from her biography on the General Majority PAC webpage:

Susan M. McCue is one of the nation’s top political strategists and President of Message Global, LLC, a firm she founded... Susan served as Chief of Staff for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for eight years, where she built and managed his leadership, policy and political operations.

She also co-founded the much-praised Senate Majority SuperPAC to elect Democrats in 2012 to the U.S. Senate, and in 2013 she founded the Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security, now called General Majority PAC, to elect Democrats in state races. 

The taxpayers, through their elected representatives in the New Jersey Legislature, fund Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey.  Should a member of Rutgers' governing Board be engaged in the election or defeat of members of that Legislature?  

What effect will her presence on the Rutgers governing Board have on legislators who, when exercising their own statutory oversight, find themselves facing a quarter-million dollar cable buy advocating their defeat or re-election? Will legislators think twice before taking up the cause of a disgruntled Rutgers employee or student.  Legislators must already know that they take on Rutgers' powerful and incumbent at their peril.  McCue's presence has already had a chilling effect on free expression in and outside the Legislature.  

Lastly, the source of Susan McCue's power -- Citizens United and other decision by that failsafe of the establishment, the national Supreme Court -- and her misuse of it to amplify the voice of rich corporations to drown out the voices of millions of American people makes a mockery of our democratic process and threatens democracy itself.  Is this the example you want Rutgers students to follow? 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  I look forward to your answers to my questions  and to any ideas you might have on how to address this threat to legislative independence and democracy. 

Sincerely,

Rev. Greg Quinlan

*Rev. Quinlan can be reached at: GQuinlan@gardenstatefamilies.com