I was riding the train the other day and overheard a teenager explaining to her friend that her parents had decided to leave New Jersey because their property tax burden was too high. My eyes had sorta glazed over on this really boring book I was reading when that comment buzzed its way into my ear. I remember looking around to see if someone was saying it for my benefit, but realized of course they weren’t – I was witnessing one of those unvarnished real life moments.
Take away the politics of property taxes and you confront the reality: people cannot afford to pay what they are paying now let alone an increase ( I know this is hardly an original thing to say or write but bear with me ). And it is the fear of a property tax increase due to state cuts that is starting to rankle the Republicans who will need to stick by the Christie budget.
“There is a property tax pressure right now, no question about it,” said one Republican lawmaker. And the Administration “doesn’t want to talk about it.” The whole Christie approach is to curb outta control spending at the local level by forcing “structural reform.” In other words, pain now = gain later. And the Governor seems confident that the public understands that and is with him on this ( I know, polls say otherwise, but remember “the only poll that matters is on election day” ). Perhaps the voters do agree with Christie that the only way to mortally wound that pesky property tax beast is to force cuts in spending at the local level by starving it. Well, that is certainly better than status quo, but when I hear terms like “structural reform” I can’t help but think that’s not really what this is. Structural reform means radically overhauling the system. It would be like Paul Volcker’s much maligned suggestion that America abandon the ( ridiculously complicated ) current tax system in favor of the VAT.
But I hear there are additional reforms making their way down the pipeline which could certainly be characterized as “real reform” if not reform of the “structural” variety. For example, capping all local labor costs ( which gets tricky with police but is certainly doable ). Look for that legislation to be tied to some kind of arbitration reform and you may get another set of bills that neither side can say “no” to…kinda like that pension package. Anyway, it may not exactly kill the beast, but it will certainly show that bitch who’s boss.