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Greenwald: A roadmap for property tax reform
August 12, 2014
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For too long, the promise of property tax reform has been stymied by political calculation and partisan gridlock, which is why it’s time for an innovative approach — one that applies lessons from elsewhere and prioritizes fairness to middle-class families and seniors.
I propose convening a series of bipartisan high-level meetings to find a way to finally tame property taxes.
We can have no sacred cows in our discussions, with no topic off-limits. We should consider all ideas to reduce the property tax burden, regardless of the political affiliation of whoever proposed it. Throughout it all, our priority would be cuts in property taxes, but nothing would be off-limits. If needed, this can become all-encompassing, as long as it involves fixing New Jersey’s economic problems.
The bipartisan talks I’m proposing would be composed of respected business, civic and community leaders, and would tackle needed reforms in a way that promotes responsible funding for our communities and fairness to our residents. Freed from political pressures, this group should be able to design a comprehensive and fundamental restructuring of the way we fund local services, providing the legislative and executive branches a roadmap for reform.
We know this won’t be easy.
We’ve heard about tool kits and freezes. We’ve talked about rebates. We’ve hosted roundtables and had special legislative sessions. While some of these approaches represented incremental progress, they were sold to the public as initiatives that would reduce property tax bills and provide sustainable relief.
But none of these ideas actually reduced the burden. These short-cuts have run their course, and we are no closer to solving this problem. We have to be honest with ourselves and stop merely covering up the symptoms and start to deliver a cure for the cancer of property taxes that is killing our state.
Decades of experience prove our system is fundamentally flawed. Property taxes are regressive, disproportionately harming senior citizens on fixed incomes and middle-class families struggling to make ends meet. Property taxes are unfair, with no basis in one’s ability to pay. This means that when someone loses their job, or even just retire, they risk losing their home, exacerbating our state’s economic struggles.
Skyrocketing property taxes also crowd out our ability to solve other pressing problems. With so much of our budget devoted to patching this broken system, we cannot afford many other sorely needed investments. Whether it’s increased funding for education, job creation initiatives, support for New Jersey’s colleges and universities, investing in environmental protection, ensuring a strong infrastructure or other challenges, critical needs are going unaddressed because of the resources devoted to property taxes.
We must shift to a model of funding local services that prioritizes fairness and sustainability.
I’ve spoken with the leaders of business associations, major industries, labor unions, stakeholders and former governors from both parties who have expressed interest in participating. Legislative leaders of both houses should also participate, and I know Speaker Prieto and Senate President Sweeney are already supportive of this concept. By bringing together leaders from our past and present with civic leaders from all walks of life, we can forge the tough compromises needed to solve this decades-old property tax crisis.
It’s time for politicians to put politics aside. It’s time to move past quick fixes and bumper sticker slogans to achieve the real property tax solutions New Jersey desperately needs. This is a chance to change New Jersey for the better, and I believe we can get it done. It’s what the people of New Jersey deserve.
Louis Greenwald is a Democrat who represents the 6th Legislative District in Camden and Burlington counties. He is the New Jersey Assembly Majority leader.