Incredibly, there are some who fear that a property tax reform convention would hurt the people most in need of a change. Those opponents see such a convention as a ploy to reduce equitable funding for urban education.
In fact, the same families who depend on Abbott funding to ensure their children a thorough and efficient education, are in desperate need of winning a fair and equitable system of taxation.
The property tax accounts for about 45 percent of New Jersey's state and local tax revenue. The national average is just slightly above 30 percent. New Jersey property taxes equal about 5.6 percent as a percentage of personal income, compared with the national average of 3.6 percent. And New Jersey households with incomes in the lowest 20 percent pay 9.2 percent of their earnings in property taxes; the wealthiest 20 percent pay 3.6 percent.
The property tax is universally regarded as the most regressive source of revenue. So it is obvious that New Jersey 's current tax policy yields neither fair, nor equitable, results.
Families seeking equitable education funding can take, and have taken, the fight for school funding to the state Supreme Court, because a thorough and efficient system of public education is guaranteed by the state Constitution. That, unfortunately, is not the case wi
fair and equitable taxation, so those who suffer from the current tax system cannot look to the courts for relief. The only venue is the state Legislature. And that venue has failed us for decades.
We need another venue.
The property tax crisis has been likened to a house afire. In this analogy, the house belongs to the people, while the Legislature is the local fire company. For years, the fire has raged. Every election, legislative candidates are called upon and promise to put the fire out. And every year, nothing gets done. Finally, the call for the Legislature to pass a special convention bill amounts to this: "Since you are never going to put out this fire, will you just let us borrow the truck?"
The 15-member Property Tax Convention Task Force has drafted a proposal to implement the convening of the constitutional convention and to bar delegates from cutting state spending. Though spending issues have triggered heated debate, they should not be the convention's primary focus.
Every year, municipal and county officials carefully try to cut spending where they can and limit needed increases to a minimum. And every year, the Legislature has the same opportunity to limit spending.
So spending issues are, or at least
can be, dealt with through processes already in place.
The reason we need a convention is that those processes have not addressed themselves to the fairest means of raising revenue.
No matter how much you think government should spend, where you think money is needed or wasted, or what you consider appropriate revenue levels, the simple fact is that there has to be a fairer way of raising it.
That needs to be the primary focus of a convention dedicated to property tax reform. That is the central aim of the League of Municipalities and the other advocates of this approach.
Accordingly, we agree that the convention has to have the opportunity to look at spending. But whatever spending recommendations may emerge, they need to go to the people separate from the revenue recommendations. If we tie the two together, we increase the risk that this historic opportunity will become an exercise in futility.
If the Legislature passes the bill recommended by the task force, voters will have the opportunity to decide whether they want a convention. Voters also will have the opportunity to elect convention delegates and accept or reject their recommendations.
If you think New Jersey needs property tax reform, and if you believe in democracy, you need to let Acting Gov. Richard Codey and your legislators know. This could be our last, best chance to put the fire out.