Our endorsements: No on 1, Yes on 2 and 3
With initiatives on the ballot in other states regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, immigration and affirmative action garnering the headlines, we wouldn't be surprised if many New Jersey voters weren't even aware that we have three on the ballot this November. With that in mind, we give you our thoughts on the three Public Questions as the first in a series of endorsements. After all, most people reading this know who is running for Senate and the House, and likely know who they'll vote for. We hope that by bringing these initiatives to your attention early, you'll do your own research and determine how you'll vote, rather than randomly picking "Yes" or "No" in the voting booth.
Public Question 1:
Do you approve the amendment of Article VIII, Section I of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, to provide for the annual dedication and annual appropriation of an amount equal to the annual revenue derived from a tax rate of 0.5% imposed under the New Jersey Sales and Use Tax, exclusively for the purpose of property tax reform, through a special Property Tax Reform Account established in the constitutionally dedicated Property Tax Relief Fund?
City Belt wishes it hadn't come to this question, and that the state had looked into alternatives to implementing the regressive sales tax increase from 6 to 7 percent -- such as a repeal of Gov. Whitman's tax cuts for the most wealthy, or an increase in those who earn over $200,000 a year, a proposal briefly floated by Assemblyman Louis Manzo (D-Hudson) during the "budget showdown" this summer.
However, we do know that the incredibly high property tax burden is a very real problem in New Jersey, and gripes about it are not just the by-products of 26 years of rhetoric about "free markets" and "small government." The system is simply not working, and homeowners are paying more for less in many circumstances.
Given this knowledge, City Belt is welcome to the idea of "property tax reform" -- we encourage it, for the sake of those who work hard in this state. However, we belive that a vote for this ballot question is not the answer to the problem.
We urge voters to vote "No" on Question 1.
Given the chronic budgetary shortfalls the state faces in other key areas, we could only support this Question if there was a solid plan in place for this property tax reform. But there is not yet a plan, and so we feel that this dedication of funds, as it stands now, is ripe for misuse and misappropriation. You wouldn't buy a house or a car, or even a bagel, sight unseen, so why should we give this money to a fund, when there is no clear plan of how to spend it. Quite simply, money is too tight in New Jersey (witness the $169 million cut to higher education) to take this risk.
We'd like to see the state legislature put a plan in place for property tax reform, and then see this question back on the ballot.
Public Question 2:
Shall the amendment to Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 6 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, expanding the authorized uses of the constitutionally dedicated Corporation Business Tax Revenue, to allow the use of 15% of the dedicated funds to fund the development of lands for recreation and conservation purposes, and beginning on January 1, 2016, allow the use of an additional 17% of the dedicated funds to fund the development of lands for recreation and conservation purposes, be approved?
At first glance, this proposal seems less straightforward than Question 1. As it stands now, there is a constitutional amendment that takes four percent of the Corporation Business Tax and provides funds for four environmental programs -- cleanup of contaminated sites, upgrades and closures of underground storage tanks, water quality projects and air pollution control grants to retrofit publicly owned diesel vehicles. But it seems these programs have been too succesful -- now there is essentially money left over each year, especially in the underground storage tank area.
Enviromental groups and other citizen groups want to take this unallocated money and put it into a new area: the development of open and green space, both for recreation and for conservation. Anti-tax groups see it as squandering an opportunity to reduce or possibly eliminate the Corporation Business Tax altogether (three states have no such tax: Nevada, Washington and Wyoming).
We think that the available money should be used to fund green space, and urge voters to vote "Yes" on Question 2.
While New Jersey is only the tenth-most populous state in the country, it has the highest density (1,134.4 residents per square mile). A state where people live in such increasingly tight quarters needs significant investment in public parks, recreation and conservation. The state has taken the first step, and increased open space in the past decade -- this ballot initiative would help fund recreational programs at, and the upkeep of, this precious parkland.
Public Question 3:
Do you approve the proposed amendment to the State Constitution, agreed to by the Legislature, which changes the current $0.09 per gallon dedication of the motor fuels tax to $0.105 per gallon to be used only for the funding of the State transportation system, subject to previously enacted laws dedicating any of these revenues for debt service on bonds of the State or for any other uses of these revenues?
As it stands now, money collected by the motor fuels tax, which is 10.5 cents per gallon, goes to two areas: 9 of the 10.5 cents goes to the Transportation Trust Fund, which helps fund transportation projects (both road and rail) across the state. The remaining 1.5 cents goes to pay off old bonds, which, according to the State Department of Transportation, are "substantially paid off." The amendment in question would dedicate all 10.5 cents of the gas tax to the Transportation Trust Fund.
We like when taxes on unhealthy and unsustainable practices are used to fund practices that are sustainable, and so we think that using all of the gas tax to fund important transportation projects -- especially smart growth and rail projects -- is a good idea.
We urge voters to vote "Yes" on Question 3.
If you've ridden NJ Transit during rush hour, tried to drive on the disintegrating highways and byways in our state's urban and near-urban cores, or waited an hour to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan, you know that transportation is one of the biggest problems the state faces. To hold back any available and sensible funding for improving the transit situation is irresponsible.
Whether or not you agree with us on the three Public Questions, the most important thing is for you to make an informed decision and exercise your right on Nov. 7. Don't forget to vote.