Rising Property Taxes Draw Fire New Jersey Voters Reject Hikes for School Funding; Grumbles across US, but No Ballot Measures. ANOTHER TAX REVOLT?

Article excerpt

IN SCORES of political jurisdictions around the United States, voters are sending a message not heard in the corridors of government since the late 1970s: local property taxes are too high.

Outrage over potentially-higher property tax assessments was clearly evident in recent weeks. Voters in a number of jurisdictions defeated school-budget plans linked to increases in property taxes.

In New Jersey, the citizens' revolt was particularly stunning. On April 25 voters gave a thumbs down to 48 percent of the school tax measures in 263 districts, the most clear-cut rejection of property tax-related school budgets in the Garden State in the last 14 years. Some of the proposed property tax hikes would have been 40 percent or more - an increase that drew the ire of older homeowners on fixed incomes.

New Jersey Governor James Florio (D) said the defeat of so many school bond issues underscores voter distaste for using regressive property taxes to finance education. His answer: shift more of the education funding burden to the state level. Indeed, as part of a broad tax plan, Mr. Florio is calling for a "reform" of New Jersey's property tax structure.

Across the Hudson River, a number of New York lawmakers, such as Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D), also say voters are clearly restive about property taxes.

Nor is the mounting disaffection with property taxes just linked to school budget issues - or the New York area. In regions as diverse as Washington, D.C., northern Virginia, New Hampshire, and Washington State, grumbles are growing.

Some state legislatures, such as in New Jersey and Michigan, are considering property tax relief. Still, no major new anti-property-tax ballot issues have been proposed at this time, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based research group.

Perhaps no part of the nation is more dependent on property tax assessments than New Hampshire. That state has no income tax. Property taxes in the Granite State constitute over 60 percent of all government tax revenues and in some communities can run as high as $5,000 annually. …