Asking legislators to make

a smart choice … soon

a smart choice … soon

A proposed tax reform bill being supported in some towns in Middlesex County is worth a look by state legislators as one potential alternative for solving our state’s tax woes.

The New Jersey Coalition for Property Tax Reform, a nonpartisan citizen group, is lobbying for passage of a bill that it says would cut the school portion of property taxes by as much as 90 percent, shifting the burden to fund education over to income taxes instead.

The argument is that the SMART (Save Money And Reform Taxes) Bill takes a situation in which more and more people are struggling to pay skyrocketing school taxes and creates a system that is based almost entirely on one’s ability to pay.

The SMART Bill may or may not be the remedy to the property tax problem, and it may not be the answer to the question of how best to fund education, but it warrants the attention of state legislators.

Property taxes have been increasing sharply over the last several years in part because of a financial crisis at the state level. The state has continuously frozen municipal and school aid, forcing local school districts and municipalities to pass along to residents the increasing cost of maintaining existing programs and staff positions. It has also caused many school districts to eliminate much-desired programs and positions.

It is clear that New Jersey’s current system is not the best way to fund education. To that end, many legislators have supported holding a constitutional convention to address the issue of property tax reform. However, government officials have so far been unable to even get the convention added as a question on the November ballot.

If it is placed on the ballot next year and passed by the public, the convention would begin in April 2005, following the election of delegates. By August 2005, if delegates have a proposal ready, a reform proposal would go up for a vote in the next general election, November 2005.

This process is ultimately designed to amend the state constitution and change the way education is funded. It will not be taken lightly, and will take time.

While officials should continue to push toward a constitutional convention, they should also look at the SMART Bill as a potential alternative.

Some call the bill a "Band-Aid" solution, but such a fix may be needed to keep municipalities from slowly bleeding to death with each rising tax point.