N.J. and taxes: Pefect together

Gov. Corzine and his Republican rival, Christopher J. Christie, don’t seem to agree on much as the gubernatorial race lurches through its inevitably ugly last days. But they both support property-tax rebates.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Tax Foundation just “awarded” New Jersey yet another No. 1 ranking on its list of the nation’s most burdensome property levies. No matter how many such prizes the state accumulates, its leaders remain fiercely loyal to policies that have failed to solve the problem.

Chief among them is the costly fiscal and political sideshow known as property-tax rebates. These annual checks are funded by income taxes, claimed on income-tax returns, and based partly on income — in other words, related to property taxes in name only. Meanwhile, the nation’s highest property levy continues its inexorable ascent.

The Tax Foundation report shows New Jersey’s property tax is well overgrown by any measure. The state’s median property tax last year was by far the nation’s highest at $6,320 — an astounding 37 percent more than that of the nearest competition, Connecticut. As a share of home value, it was second nationwide at 1.74 percent. And as a share of income, it was again far and away the worst, consuming a little more than 7 percent of homeowners’ earnings.
New Jersey also claims six of the 10 counties with the highest property taxes in the nation. The most expensive are in the north, but Camden and Gloucester Counties claimed the highest burdens as a percentage of home value — both above 2 percent, or more than double the national average.

Another report by the Tax Foundation last week found New Jersey has the nation’s most hostile tax climate for business. That takes into account corporate, income, sales, and property taxes.

Unlike some of the other states with high taxes on property, New Jersey has high taxes on virtually everything else, too. New Hampshire, for instance, has high property taxes, but it collects no sales tax and only minimal income taxes. But New Jersey has the country’s fifth-highest top income-tax rate, and only California has a higher state sales-tax rate.

Property taxes rank as New Jersey voters’ top concern in poll after poll. Four years ago, they dominated the gubernatorial race. That ultimately yielded efforts by Corzine and lawmakers to cap local spending, revamp state aid to towns and schools, and push for municipal and school consolidation.

At best, though, this has only slowed the rate of property-tax growth. The issue still adds up to the most colossal, collective, and consistent failure of New Jersey’s politicians in recent decades.

It’s strange, then, that it has been mostly absent from this year’s political debate, apart from some back-and-forth about the rebates. It seems New Jersey can count on more prizes next year.