While most states are making it easier for the public to access public records through the web, New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice (D-Essex) is working to limit access to property tax records. Rice has introduced a bill that would prevent taxpayers from viewing all property tax records
, except their own.
Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, a real estate broker, is pushing a bill that would exempt property record cards, maintained by local tax assessors, from the definition of a government record. That means the public would no longer be able to access the cards through an Open Public Records Act request. Yet Rice's bill would give real estate professionals, such as himself, open access.
Rice's bill would let homeowners access their own cards, which contain information such as assessed value, ownership, lot size and number of rooms. But homeowners who wanted to review the cards of other homes in their neighborhoods, which is commonly done to support tax appeals, would be blocked from doing so.
Without access to property tax information, taxpayers will not be able to compare and analyze property valuations and other pertinent information to identify inequities in property tax assessments. There is already a lack of public trust in government and property taxes are at the top of the list of taxpayer complaints. Why compound the problem with a new law?
Rice said the bill would enable real estate brokers to obtain property tax information more quickly in cities where tax assessors have been inundated with requests. But as one attorney who reviewed the bill noted, if there is a big demand for the records, there's a good reason for it: because the public has a need for them. Another attorney familiar with property tax law called it a step backward while "other states are making property record information available on their Web sites."
Only one lone Senator has stuck up for taxpayers:
The bill sailed through the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee — chaired by Rice — earlier this month, with Sen. Leonard T. Connors Jr., R-Ocean, casting the lone committee vote against the bill.
State legislators should work to make life easier and less costly for their constituents, not ease regulations that benefit themselves and a narrow constituency. If Rice is truly interested in providing quicker, easier access to property tax cards, he should follow the lead of other states and make the records fully accessible on the Web — to the industry and the public alike.