"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Tax Task Force Rules Out Spending Cuts

The state Property Tax Convention Task Force recommended Tuesday that New Jersey should hold a constitutional convention to address the state's rising property taxes, but it should be banned from recommending any cuts in government spending, The panel also called for a wide range of other restrictions be placed on any constitutional convention.

Carl E. Van Horn, a Rutgers University professor who served as the task force chairman, said the panel was right to urge a narrow focus for the convention. He said if delegates were charged with conducting a wide review of state spending, it would open a Pandora’s box and the convention could become a venue for delegates to advance their own ideological or social concerns.

Two Republicans on the panel, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance and Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole, R-Essex, disagreed, arguing that the convention would be a futile exercise if delegates don't examine ways to cut spending on public programs, which are funded by property taxes.

"A convention that addresses revenues only does half the job, and its work will be negated in two to three years by increases in spending," Lance said. "This will merely provide temporary property tax relief and no true property tax reform."

Acting Governor Codey has said he would not oppose convention legislation, even though he does not think it is a panacea for reform.


Key Recommendations
  • Voters in November 2005 would have to authorize the convention and elect delegates.
  • The convention should focus only on reducing the burden of local property taxes, most likely with new or increased state taxes. Proposals should be "revenue neutral," meaning that total state and local taxes collected should not increase or decrease.
  • The convention should be barred from mandating local spending reductions, such as forced consolidation, or disturbing constitutional language that hasz led to court orders mandating affordable housing construction in suburbs and increased state aid for low-income school districts.
  • The convention should have the power to propose both statutory changes, such as specific tax laws, and amendments to the constitution spelling out general state obligations. But if the Legislature will not authorize the convention to enact statutes - a power currently reserved to the Legislature alone - the task force urged that the convention still go forward with the power to propose amendments.
  • Voters in 2006 would have to ratify the convention's recommendations.

None of the panel's recommendations are binding. It will be up to the state Legislature next year to adopt or reject them, and decide whether New Jersey should assemble its first constitutional convention since 1966. More here.



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