In the campaign to make New Jersey more affordable, reining in property taxes is a great place to start. But to do so, we need to figure out why New Jersey’s property taxes are so much higher than everyone else’s.
Tom Byrne, founder and managing director of Byrne Asset Management, has dug deep into the issue and has identified three reasons our property taxes are so much higher than anyone else’s—we spend more for public education, public safety, and public-employee health benefits than anybody else.
Byrne outlined the problem at the Opportunity NJ Affordability Summit in September. The summit was a daylong conference of business leaders and experts charged with finding solutions to the state’s biggest economic problems, which will be compiled into a white paper and presented to the incoming governor after the election.
High Spending = High Property Taxes
According to state Treasury, the average property tax bill in New Jersey is $8,100, or about 11 percent of the average household income. That represents 2.37 percent of the average home value, which is more than twice the national average.
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“Look at (property taxes) in terms of cost to carry a home,” Byrne said. “New Jersey’s cost to carry is 80 percent higher than the national average. Only seven states have a cost of carry on homes that is above 2 percent.”
So what is driving property taxes in New Jersey?
Public Employee Health Benefits
By any measure, a health plan equivalent to an Obamacare “Gold” insurance plan (the most comprehensive coverage) with the employer picking up 80 percent of the costs would be considered generous. Yet it pales in comparison to what local public employees receive; their plans are much more expensive, and property taxpayers pick up 96 percent of the costs.
If New Jersey switched all local employees to such a “gold plan,” governments could cut property taxes by nearly 9 percent—that’s $2.5 billion in spending at the county and local level—while still providing health benefits on the high end.
“The costs are way out of line with private sector plans,” Byrne said.
Public safety is essential in New Jersey, but no more or less so than the rest of the country. Yet New Jersey’s costs for public safety are two-and-a-half times higher. Why?
In short, we have more police and we pay them a lot more than just about everybody else.
According to Byrne, New Jersey towns pay police officers more than everyone except California, and collectively, New Jersey has 56 percent more officers per capita than the average state.
“That just says to us that we have room to do something about the municipal portion of property taxes if we want to,” Byrne said.
If New Jersey spent the same amount of money per pupil as Massachusetts, we would spend $3.8 billion less on schools than we do now. If we followed Maryland’s lead, it would be $5.3 billion less.
“I hope that’s enough to provoke some thinking that there are some things we can do about property taxes if we choose to do them,” Byrne said.