Massachusetts shows effects of property tax cap similar to Christie's proposal, report says
Published: Wednesday, June 09, 2010, 5:02 AM Updated: Wednesday, June 09, 2010, 5:16 AM
Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a town hall meeting in Robbinsville last week.
TRENTON — Hundreds of teachers and emergency-services workers would be laid off. Class sizes would balloon and arts, foreign language and athletics would be slashed. Construction would halt and buildings would crumble.
Those are some of the nightmare scenarios critics described Tuesday as what Massachusetts has to deal with under a 2.5 percent property tax cap, touted by Gov. Chris Christie as the model for what New Jersey needs.
The cap would reduce “essential educational programs and services” while failing to address the root cause of high property taxes, said a report released Tuesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank opposed to caps.
“Property tax caps do not change state policies in ways that can make government operate better, smarter or more efficiently, nor do they necessarily change local policies in ways that improve government,” the report’s author, Iris Lav, said on a conference call with reporters. “Caps can reduce property taxes, of course, but there are many better ways to do that.”
The Christie administration disagreed with the “premise and conclusions of the study,” a spokesman said in a statement.
“This is not about tying the hands of schools and towns to fund the services New Jerseyans need, but providing the tools to make education and government affordable again for taxpayers,” the statement said. “To simply focus only on the cap and ignore the rest of the reforms is wrong and not what the governor is proposing at all.”
The 2.5 percent cap, the centerpiece of Christie’s plan to curb property taxes, would replace a 4 percent cap critics view as too lenient with exceptions. Christie also has proposed changes to arbitration and civil service rules that would give towns more power over public worker unions.
To get on the ballot by November, the proposed constitutional amendment must pass the Legislature with a three-fifths vote by early August. The Democrats who control the lawmaking body are still undecided on the issue.
If passed, residents would need to approve tax increases above the cap by a 60 percent vote margin. Property taxes in New Jersey rose about 3.3 percent last year to a statewide average of $7,300.
District and municipal consolidation, sales and income taxes and targeted property tax refunds should be considered as alternatives to caps, the report said. The left-leaning budget center’s paper challenged an analysis the right-leaning Manhattan Institute for Policy Research released last month. The institute said a cap would not harm the quality of public education.
Massachusetts’ statewide policies and targeted school funding — not tax limits — have kept test scores competitive, but schools also increased class sizes and cut art, music and foreign language instruction, as well as athletics, the budget center’s report said.