MuniLand

New Jersey is getting squeezed everywhere

By Cate Long
May 8, 2013

The largest governor in America, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, was outed this week by the New York Post for undergoing weight reduction surgery. Reuters reports:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has struggled with obesity for much of his adult life, underwent lap band surgery in February to reduce the size of his stomach, at the urging of his wife and children, his press secretary said on Tuesday.

Christie underwent the surgery in February, top aide Mike Drewniak confirmed in an email to Reuters.

Governor Christie insists he underwent the surgery for “his wife and children,” but I find it interesting that he has also simultaneously put the squeeze on the finances of New Jersey. Christie has labeled himself a tax cutter, but he is more of budget smoke and mirrors guy.  For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Christie is seizing money from local governments that was intended for affordable housing development:

Amid objections from municipal officials and housing activists, the Christie administration has begun the process of seizing $150 million or more in subsidized housing money from municipalities around the state.

The governor’s office is keeping a tight lid on its policy objectives.

And the bigger issue is how Christie has squeezed New Jersey homeowners, who pay the second highest local and state taxes in the nation, by reducing the property tax relief granted by the state. Analysis done by NJ Spotlight explodes the popular myth that Christie is a tax cutter. Instead, New Jersey taxpayers have suffered increases in their property taxes while Christie raids rebate funds to balance the state budget. From NJ Spotlight:

Net property taxes in New Jersey rose 18.6 percent in Gov. Chris Christie’s first three years in office, compared to just 6 percent in Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s last three years in office, a New Jersey Spotlight analysis shows.

Christie, who has made attacks on “Corzine Democrats” a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, has been touting his record of holding down overall property tax increases. But when Christie’s rebate reductions are factored in, his property tax record is not so clear-cut.

What does this mean for New Jersey taxpayers? NJ Spotlight again:

While Corzine doubled average property tax rebates from 2006 to 2009 and provided rebates to families earning as much as $250,000, Christie sharply cut the size of rebate payments and limited eligibility for non-seniors to those earning $75,000 or less.

As a result, average net property taxes — the actual cost of property taxes for the average New Jerseyan after rebates are deducted — rose from $6,244 in 2009, Corzine’s last year in office, to $7,405 in 2012, Christie’s third year in office, state Department of Community Affairs data shows.

This may sound like a minor issue, but New Jersey is the number one state for people moving away, and often the reason is the high cost of living and taxes. As Rutgers economist James Hughes  comments via New Jersey 101.5:

Hughes says, ‘People are leaving because New Jersey is a very expensive place to live. We have high taxes and we have high housing costs per se – you can cash out on your very expensive house in New Jersey and move to a much more affordable state, and purchase an equivalent house at maybe half the price – half the taxes – and live quite well.’

Christie is putting the squeeze on many things in New Jersey, but he still hasn’t tackled the core structural problems of the state. He diddled the pension system, which won’t regain health for decades, assuming the economy does not worsen. New Jersey taxes are still the second highest in the country and the school districts taken over by the state remain in shambles. Fixing public problems that have festered for decades takes real structural transformation. A quick trip to the hospital for some surgery cannot make everything healthy again.

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