Sunday, July 04, 2010

2% Property Tax Cap In New Jersey's Future

That the New Jersey legislature and Gov. Chris Christie could come to an agreement on a property tax cap wasn't all that surprising given the all too apparent need to deal with locality spending and its effect on property taxes. The size and scope is. I had expected that Gov. Christie would accept a statutory cap with a severely limited set of exemptions that was in the range of the Democrats' proposal of 2.9% versus the 2.5% constitutional cap that Christie proposed.

Instead, the agreement was for a 2% cap with four exceptions, down from the 14 proposed by the legislature. The exceptions are pretty significant, but marks a significant departure from the way localities prepared their budgets (and imposed tax hikes).
The agreement represents a series of compromises from both parties. It would limit property tax increases to 2 percent a year, lower than the current 4 percent cap and lower than previous proposals from Christie and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

It would also decrease the number of expenses exempted from the cap, from 14 to four. Those four exemptions are pension benefits, health benefits, capital expenditures and certain emergencies. An exemption for spikes in school enrollment will remain in place.

A key feature of the proposal is allowing local residents to vote on whether to increase taxes higher than the cap allows. Currently this is handled by a local finance board, but if the proposal is adopted, the only way the cap could be exceeded would be with the approval by a majority of local residents.

"This reaches all the core principles everyone has been talking about," Christie said.

Standing with Christie at Saturday's press conference in the governor's outer office were Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, R-Union, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, and Sweeney.

"They said it couldn't be done," Sweeney said. "Well, we proved them wrong, Governor."

Notably absent was Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, whose support remains in doubt.

"The speaker has not been part of any closed-door deal," spokesman Tom Hester said in a statement. "As the speaker has said repeatedly, we will thoroughly vet any proposal."

Still, Christie remained confident about the plan's prospects in the Legislature.

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