On the federal level, the Republicans have been uncooperative, obstructionist, and more interested in scoring ideological and political points than in actually governing and doing what’s right and expedient for the country. They have cared more about their own political careers and their party than the fact that their decisions make people suffer.
However, in New Jersey, it’s been mostly the Democrats that have made a mess of things in recent years. They’ve given out huge raises to state workers (Governor Corzine gave the state workers union a sweetheart deal even though private sector workers were being laid off in record numbers and in the throes of a severe economic recession), gave a huge pension increase in the early part of the decade, and have increased spending by massive proportions while not funding obligations in the pension system.
When current Governor Chris Christie came into office, in spite of those who don’t like his brash personality, it seemed like there would be some semblance of fiscal sanity coming back into play. He started the road to reducing a bloated state budget, and fought for a plan to reduce the rapidly increasing property taxes that are the highest in the country and getting higher every year. It seemed like we were starting on the long, slow road to trying to make New Jersey more affordable.
The new two percent cap on property tax increases had a lot of holes in it, in that it didn’t include health care costs or pension costs, and a lot of municipalities managed to find loopholes that allowed it to exceed the cap, but at least it was a good start to what we assumed was a long range plan to start bringing the taxes down to a reasonable level.
However, in his just released budget proposal for the next fiscal year, he has seemingly turned into the standard Republican phony who talks a good game but when he gets into office does the same thing as all the other Republican politicians—increases spending and cuts income taxes. This is a recipe for disaster, just like it was for eight years with the federal budget under George Bush. Look where that got us.
In his budget speech, Christie proposed a budget that increases spending from last year. I guess the ideology of smaller government only lasted his first two years, and now he’s turned into a typical politician, who always increases the budget. If he did that to fully fund the pension obligations, I could reluctantly agree he’s trying to do the right thing. But while he increased the contribution, it’s still way below what actuaries say we need to do to make the system solvent.
On top of that, and far worse, he praised the progress made on the property tax problem, but did nothing more to build on that to try to bring them down to a reasonable level. Does he really think what he did last year was all that is necessary?
His big splash came from proposing a 10 percent cut in income taxes across the board. Many are blasting that as something that will disproportionately help the rich, since someone who pays $10,000 in taxes will save $1,000, while someone at a lower income level who pays $700 in taxes will only save $70.
While cutting taxes when it’s feasible is always a good thing, he’s totally focused on the wrong issue. The income tax rate in New Jersey is not the problem with living in this state. For the very wealthy, it’s considerable, but for the average person living here the huge problem is affording those ever increasing property taxes.
My own property taxes went up by 50 percent a couple of years ago. My property taxes for a small condo were 50 percent higher than those of a friend who has a house with a quarter acre of land who lives just across the river in Pennsylvania. All told, property taxes in New Jersey have gone up an average of 70 percent in the last decade, and are the highest in the United States, at an average of $7,759.
And the governor who promised to make New Jersey fiscally sound again thinks limiting the yearly raise to two percent, with exceptions that make it in actuality more than that, is a success?
What he needs to do is call for a 10 percent reduction in property taxes, not income taxes. If what he’s trying to do is raise his national profile and remain a darling of the Republicans who worship at the altar of tax cuts, then he’s taking the easy way out. What he’s doing is not going to affect most people in New Jersey in any significant way. If he really cares about this state, he needs to address the real problem.
I realize that property taxes are mostly about local government and school funding. But the only way for the problem to be tackled is at the state level, with a leader strong enough to force consolidation of the unsustainable number of towns and school districts we have. A leader who will say, “This is what we need to do. Here’s a plan, and I’ll listen to your plan, but however it gets done, we’re going to do this.”
Instead, we got another governor who has made a small dent in the property tax problem, proclaimed victory, and moved on to the more glamorous cause of income tax cuts, while increasing spending and continuing the tradition of not funding state obligations.
We had another Republican governor, Christie Whitman, who ran on cutting taxes, then left in place the seven percent sales tax the previous governor instituted, and proceeded to massively increase the size of state government and spending. Looks like this Christie is letting us down as well.