Wednesday, October 14, 2009

N.J. tax burden becoming too heavy for some

HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP -- In less than a month, Mike and Victoria Malinics, two lifelong Mercer County residents, will move across the river to Pennsylvania to pay half the property taxes on a bigger house.

"We couldn't sustain the cost of living and provide for (our children)" said Mike Malinics, 37, adding that New Jersey "has become a case of overwhelming taxation without representation."

Wife Victoria, 34, said she feels state legislators have ignored middle class residents like her and her husband, forcing them to make the difficult decision to move across state lines.

New Jersey continues to have the highest property taxes in the nation, according to a recent analysis by The Tax Foundation. After analyzing census figures, the foundation found the median property tax bill was $6,320, with 7 percent of the state homeowners' paychecks going toward property taxes.

Republican 15th District Assembly candidate Werner Graf and Ewing Mayor Jack Ball joined the Malinicses, a Ewing couple, on the New Jersey side of the Washington Crossing Bridge yesterday morning to call on state government officials to stop driving residents out of New Jersey.

"I'm not happy to see them leave, but ... I hope it sends a message to New Jersey politicians about why they're leaving," said Ball, adding that the state's high taxes have drawn away businesses from Ewing.

Graf said a large portion of residents' tax bills goes to schools, and even with a new school funding formula designed to shift some of the spending from urban districts to other districts that have large percentages of children from low-income households, there still is "no accountability" and wasteful spending in districts that are failing. He also said funding for special education should be part of income tax payments instead of being borne by residents when special needs children move from district to district.

Graf said he and running mate Kim Taylor would serve the needs of the residents of the 15th District, which includes Trenton, Ewing, Hopewell Valley, Lawrence, the Princetons and Pennington.

"They're part of the establishment in the Legislature of New Jersey, which has very little regard for middle class tax payer," Graf said of incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton Borough, and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Ewing.

Graf also cited the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services' report from this summer which highlights an $8 billion structural deficit for the next fiscal year.

Coleman said she agrees property taxes in the state are high, and has encouraged municipalities and other governing bodies to consolidate. But she said the challenge for New Jersey is to continue to provide a high level of service people expect, such as road improvements and a commitment to open space, yet provide property tax relief.

"Almost half of the budget comes back to taxpayers in the form of services" like tax freezes for senior citizen homeowners, Coleman said, adding, "under this Democratic administration and Legislature, more property tax relief has gone into the hands of residents ... Republicans like my opponents are great to criticise, but they haven't come up with any solutions that work. If they cut services and fired everybody in state government," it still may not be enough to tackle the "huge" budget deficit, Coleman said.

Gusciora, said he has introduced a bill to find alternative methods for funding local government, and that lowering property taxes should be the priority for every elected official. "(Gov. Jon) Corzine should be given credit for increasing property tax rebates in the last four years. ... We've worked on returning more rebate dollars to tax payers," he said.

Pennsylvania ranked third, just behind New York and Florida, in the top 10 destination states for those leaving New Jersey, according to an October 2007 report by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

According to that report, the state's population started to decline in 2002. New Jersey's 2005 aggregate adjusted gross income was reduced by $7.9 billion, a direct loss to the state economy and state taxes, due to the cumulative net outflows of people since the start of the decade, according to the report.

The report states "high housing costs, and its high overall cost of living" are possible explanations for the out-migration.

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