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A Familiar Story: Property Taxes Climb, Tax Relief Stays Flat

Friday, April 22, 2016   (0 Comments)
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NJspotlight.com 04/22/16

After another year in which average New Jersey property-tax bills grew but benefits paid through the popular Homestead relief program remained flat, lawmakers are taking another shot at making sure the public can easily see that growing gap for themselves. The new effort follows Gov. Chris Christie’s rejection late last year of legislation billed by sponsors as a measure to ensure transparency. Christie conditionally vetoed the bill while he was running for president; at the time, he was attempting to make the case nationally that he’d had a positive impact on New Jersey’s thorny problem of high property taxes. Now, there’s a new version of the transparency legislation, and it includes a new wrinkle. Several of the changes Christie himself recommended in the conditional veto have been inserted into the updated version of the bill.

The state’s average property-tax bill has grown, but the average Homestead benefits have remained flat.
For example, the average New Jersey property tax bill in 2015 rose by nearly $200 to $8,353. But the current state budget funds Homestead benefits that will average $515 for seniors and disabled homeowners who make up to $150,000 annually, and $404 for other homeowners who make up to $75,000 annually. The same state Homestead benefits for the prior year were $516 and $402, respectively. Now, the new version of the bill that incorporates most of the changes recommended by Christie is starting to advance in the Legislature. The updated measure passed the state Assembly State and Local Government Committee earlier this month with unanimous bipartisan support. “The sole purpose about this bill once again is trying to make sure that we have accountability and transparency on an issue that is of grave importance to all of us, and that is property taxes,” said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington).

The measure would still include a net property-tax bill broken down by community for the more than 650,000 recipients of the Homestead benefit. But it now also calls for more information about the other property-tax relief programs, including those for seniors, veterans, and another program that allows any homeowner in New Jersey to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes from their annual state income. “We’re comfortable with where we’re at in amending the bill and hopeful for favorable consideration,” said Singleton, who is the chair of the committee and the primary sponsor of the new bill. It’s unclear right now whether Christie will accept the updated legislation. His office did not respond when asked for comment on the issue last week. And Christie’s latest proposed budget, meanwhile, would continue the practice of providing only flat Homestead benefits. The average benefit paid to qualifying seniors and disabled homeowners next year is projected to be $515, which is the same as this year’s. The average benefit for other qualified homeowners, according to the proposed budget, is projected to fall by $3 to $401.


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