Christie’s cap started to rein in property taxes. Will the trend continue under Murphy?

By Matt Rooney

Phil Murphy’s 2018 was more than a little underwhelming, Save Jerseyans. Not on a strictly personal level of course! It was his first full year as a governor. He nabbed a big new national title from the DGA. Murphy and his family are presently in Africa on a 12-day vacation

It’s good to be the king!

But on the policy, actually-getting-things-done front?

Yikes. Higher taxes, multiple scandals, and no progress on most of his top priorities (like a $15 minimum wage and legalized recreational pot).

He didn’t even pretend to tackle the property tax problem as the average N.J. property tax bill rose another 1.64% in 2017 to just shy of $8,700, firmly solidifying our position as America’s worst property tax state.

There is a small but significant silver-lining on the property tax front, but it has nothing to do with anything Murphy did and EVERYTHING to do with the 2.0% property tax levy cap championed by his predecessor, Chris Christie. Yes, you might consider him a disappointment or entirely loathsome as a human being. That doesn’t mean he didn’t do a better job than Phil Murphy with (sometimes) minimal effort.

To understand the full scope of Christie’s most enduring success, let’s revisit the average rate of property tax levy increases across New Jersey from 2002 through 2017:_

2002 McGreevey -> 7.0%
2003 McGreevey -> 7.6%
2004 McGreevey/Codey -> 6.5%
2005 Codey -> 6.5%
2006 Corzine -> 6.9%
2007 Corzine -> 5.8%
2008 Corzine -> 4.9%
2009 Corzine -> 3.6%

Total Increase: 50%

2010 Christie 4.0%
***2% cap passed***
2011 Christie -> 2.5%
2012 Christie -> 1.6%
2013 Christie -> 1.7%
2014 Christie -> 2.3%
2015 Christie -> 2.0%
2016 Christie -> 2.5%

2017 Christie -> 1.6%

Total Post-Cap Increase: 14.2%

The difference has been dramatic. Politicians lie but numbers don’t.

I hear you: increases are still increases AND totally unacceptable when you’re already paying the nation’s highest property taxes. I wish we had a governor (and a legislature) committed to fixing the school funding formula, ending the redistribution of money from the suburbs to a small handful of districts and finally CUTTING our burdens. But we don’t, so at least the cap — in practice — can keep levy rates of increase growing at or below the average rate of inflation. In theory? There could come a day when our property taxes are no longer the nation’s worst as a result of the cap holding tax increases at 2%. 

Just don’t get your hopes up. The related arbitration cap expired at the beginning of the year due to union pressure, and Trenton still hasn’t moved to plug loop holes. Most significantly? Pension and health benefit are excluded from the current “soft” cap (which is why the arb cap issue is such a big deal), and “emergency,” capital expenditure and debt service spending is also NOT included under the cap. The recent school funding  “revamp” didn’t make the formula any fairer. The bottom line: somewhere between 40% to 60% of property taxpayers have seen increases ABOVE 2.0% on their individual bills. 

That’s better than 100%, and the raw increases would’ve been worse without the aforementioned reforms of the prior Republican Administration. We’ll see if the Christie era trend continues under the new regime or succumbs to Murphy’s purely political decision to let the arb cap fade away and give the public sectors unions whatever the hell they want.

I’m worried. You should be, too, assuming you plan on trying to stay here like me into 2019 and beyond.

For now? It may not feel like it, Save Jerseyans, but you’d be paying hundreds (or more) of extra dollars every quarter were it not for the best aspect of Chris Christie’s governing legacy.