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HANOVER – Phil Murphy has taken some criticism for not talking enough about property taxes, one of the most pressing issues in the state.
That may soon change, at least according to a speech the governor gave Tuesday to the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. Murphy said he will detail what he called “enormous” and direct property tax relief in his budget address in about two weeks.
Earlier in his speech to a luncheon crowd of about 250 at the Marriott hotel, Murphy took credit for increasing state aid to education and hinted that’s going to happen again in this year’s budget. He observed that, “a dollar in state aid is a dollar school districts do not have to ask in taxes.”
Well … maybe.
If state aid increases to a school district by say $200,000, it’s very possible the district will reduce the tax levy by that amount. But then again, the district can also use that $200,000 to hire more teachers and expand programs. That may be a sound educational decision, but it would not reduce property taxes. More state aid doesn’t automatically mean tax relief.
The point is not to pick on the governor. Contrary to what may be widespread public belief, there is only so much under current law the state can do regarding property taxes. The point is to show how complicated controlling property taxes in New Jersey is.
Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who already has announced plans to seek the 2021 GOP nod for governor, was in the audience and clapped politely when Murphy finished speaking.
Ciattarelli called the entirety of Murphy’s speech a lot of “spin.” More specifically, Ciattarelli said one can’t shy away from property tax reform because it’s hard, adding that he wants a new school funding formula. Then he admitted the obvious – figuring out the math of a new funding formula is easier than navigating the politics,
The governor also touched on another ongoing issue – tax incentive grants for businesses. Relying on his business credentials – he is a former successful banker – Murphy said, “I’m a capitalist.” This is noteworthy in that Republicans enjoy calling the governor’s admittedly liberal policies, “socialistic.”
Tax credits for businesses have been an issue since a state comptroller’s report suggested billions of dollars in grants under the Christie administration may have been tainted by politics. Many went to companies connected with Democrat George Norcross, a Christie ally.
Two committees are looking at the grant process. One was named by the governor and the other was put together by the Senate. Meanwhile, the state grant program is in limbo.
Murphy said tax credits in the Christie years went from targeting specific needs to being “wasteful and extravagant.” He added that the state can no longer hand out “blank checks to those who have political pull.”
And like property taxes, Murphy said he will talk about a new tax incentive grant program in his budget address as well,
Morris County tilts Republican, although Democrats have made some strides.
With that in mind, Murphy clearly wanted to show some bipartisanship. He more than once praised GOP Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, who was in the crowd and whose 40th District covers a sliver of Morris County.
And in talking about infrastructure, the governor was delighted with the federal government’s just announced decision to make replacing the Portal Bridge, an aging rail bridge over the Hackensack River, a priority. But there’s still the matter of a new tunnel under the Hudson.
While that project remains stalled, Murphy gave a shout out to former Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen for his labors over the years to move the project along. That was a nice touch, especially when you realize Frelinghuysen’s name is hardly mentioned these days at Republican gatherings.