Entries in property taxes (14)

Wednesday
May162018

How Steve Oroho finished what Jay Webber started

In the Legislature, you can be a conservative in one of two ways... broadly speaking.  One way is to be a conscience, sit above it all, and vote accordingly.  You could not find a more perfect example of this than Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, who negotiates the prickly halls of Trenton with a Zen assuredness.  He always knows the right thing to do... and he always does it.  Instead of the wilting figure of John McCann, the YR's and CR's could do no better than to adopt Assemblyman Carroll as their Sensei. 

The other way is to wade into the muck in an attempt to climb aboard the ship of state and steer it in a more desirable direction.  Sometimes the engine isn't even working and you might need to get down into the boiler room -- knee deep in waste -- and grapple with the machinery of government, just to get it sputtering in some direction.

Assemblyman Jay Webber takes this course... to a point.  He seems well enough suited to steer, but when it comes to the engine room, he doesn't want to get his hands dirty.  That's where he differs from Senator Steve Oroho.  Oroho accepts that he will have to endure the heat and muck in order to get the machine running -- and he doesn't mind busting a knuckle or two while grabbling with a boiler wrench. 

A prime example are their differing approaches to preventing the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) from going bankrupt and ending the Estate Tax.  Two very conservative causes.  The TTF, funded by a gas tax, was right out of the Reagan mantra of using user taxes to fund public infrastructure.  Those who use the roads should pay for them, said Reagan, no free rides!  While the death tax -- which is what an Estate Tax is -- has been identified by conservatives for years as the destroyer of small businesses and the ruination of family farms.

Jay Webber waded into the issue assuredly enough.  On October 14, 2014, the Star-Ledger published a column by the Assemblyman.  It's title was "Fixing transportation and taxes together."  Webber was writing about how to raise the gas tax to re-fund the nearly bankrupt TTF, while offsetting that tax increase with cuts to other taxes.  He zeroed in on the Estate Tax: 

"NEW JERSEY leaders are grappling with three major problems: First, New Jersey has the worst tax burden in the nation. Two, New Jersey's economy suffers from sluggish growth. And third, our state's Transportation Trust Fund is out of money. There is a potential principled compromise that can help solve all of them.

Of the three problems, the Transportation Trust Fund has been getting the most attention lately, and for good reason: It's broke. There is just no money in it to maintain and improve our vital infrastructure. Without finding a solution, we risk watching our roads and bridges grow unsafe and unusable and hinder movement of people and goods throughout the state. That, of course, will exacerbate our state's slow economic growth.

...we should insist that if any tax is raised to restore the TTF, it be coupled with the elimination of a tax that is one of our state's biggest obstacles to economic growth: the death tax. By any measure, New Jersey is the most extreme outlier on the death tax, with worst-in-the-nation status... 

New Jersey's death tax is not a concern for the wealthy alone, as many misperceive. We are one of only two states with both an estate and inheritance tax. New Jersey's estate-tax threshold of $675,000, combined with a tax rate as high as 16 percent, means that middle-class families with average-sized homes and small retirement savings are hit hard by the tax. 

It also means the tax affects small businesses or family farms of virtually any size, discouraging investment and growth among our private-sector job creators. Compounding the inequity is that government already has taxed the assets subject to the death tax when the money was earned. Because of our onerous estate and inheritance taxes, Forbes magazine lists New Jersey as a place "Not to Die" in 2014. 

That's a problem, and it's one our sister states are trying hard not to duplicate. A recent study by Connecticut determined that states with no estate tax created twice as many jobs and saw their economies grow 50 percent more than states with estate taxes. That research prompted Connecticut and many states to reform their death taxes. New York just lowered its death tax, and several other states have eliminated theirs. 

The good news is that New Jersey's leaders finally are realizing that our confiscatory death tax is a big deal. A bipartisan coalition of legislators has shown its support for reforming New Jersey's death tax..." 

Taking Webber's lead, Senator Steve Oroho got to work and began the painstakingly long process of negotiation with the majority Democrats.  Oroho was animated by the basic unfairness that New Jersey taxpayers were under-writing out-of-state drivers to the tune of a half-billion dollars a year.  He understood that if the TTF went bankrupt, the cost would flip to county and local governments... resulting in an average $500 property tax increase.  Oroho went to battle to prevent this disaster and even had to stand up to Governor Chris Christie, who wanted to end negotiations too soon and accept a weaker deal from the Democrats.

Unfortunately, Assemblyman Webber didn't stick with it.  When the time came for Jay Webber to be counted as part of that bipartisan coalition, he couldn't be counted on.  Jay got scared off by the lobbyist arm of the petroleum industry and what's worse is that he started attacking those who did what he advocated doing only a short time before.  

Remember that it was Webber who wrote these words in that column more than three years ago:  "Any gas-tax increase should be accompanied by measures that will help alleviate, or at least not increase, the overall tax burden on New Jerseyans." Jay Webber wrote those words, setting the direction.  Steve Oroho was left on his own to get the job done -- to do the negotiating.  The helmsman had abandoned the engineer.  

Webber said at the time that he believed the bipartisan tax restructuring package worked out by the legislative leaders (minus Senator Tom Kean Jr.) and the Governor would result in a net tax increase.  Oroho and others disagreed with him.  Webber is by all accounts a good lawyer, but Oroho is the numbers man.  He's a certified financial planner and CPA.  Before beginning his career of public service, Steve Oroho was a senior financial officer for S&P 500 companies like W. R. Grace and  Young & Rubicam.  It was this knowledge that enabled him to fashion the compromise that he did -- one that turned out to be the largest tax cut in New Jersey's history. 

In the end, the Democrats' 40-cent increase on the gas tax was paired down to 23-cents.  The gas tax, the proceeds from which funds the TTF, had not been adjusted for inflation in 28 years, had not provided enough funding to cover annual operations in 25 years, and wasn't even bringing in enough money to pay the interest on the borrowing that was done to keep operations going (in 2015, the state collected just $750 million from the gas tax while incurring an annual debt cost of $1.1 billion).  Even so, Senator Oroho knew exactly where to draw the line... at the minimalist 23 cents and not the 40 cents the Democrats plausibly argued for. 

In the end, the engineer got the job done.  Senator Steve Oroho emerged from the boiler room triumphant.  He ended the Estate Tax and secured tax cuts for retirees, veterans, small businesses, farmers, consumers, and low-income workers.  He secured property tax relief by doubling the TTF's local financial aid to towns and counties -- and prevented a $500 per household property tax hike.  He made out-of-state drivers pay for using New Jersey's roads -- and ensured that New Jerseyans will continue to have safe roads and bridges to drive on.

Oroho's tax cuts were praised by conservative groups like Americans for Tax Reform and conservative publications like Forbes, which called his tax cuts "one of the 5 best state and local tax policy changes in 2016 nationwide." 

That's getting something done.   

Monday
Apr232018

NJ Herald wrong on motor-voter, as some say prison voting is next.

The New Jersey Herald ran a seriously limp editorial yesterday. 

Here's what they had to say: 

What's the harm in making voting easier? 

New Jersey this week became the 12th state -- the third so far this year -- to approve automatic voter registration when persons get or renew their driver's licenses.

Though voter registration had previously been possible at MVC offices in New Jersey, persons had to opt in. The law passed by the Legislature along party lines and signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday automatically would register eligible persons to vote unless they opt out. Eligible, by the way, means that among the criteria, they would have to be legal citizens. 

What the Herald doesn't explain is that at the request of several Democrat-leaning organizations, the majority Democrats amended this bill (A-2014) in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.  The committee added language to expand "required automatic voter registration" to other state agencies as well, including welfare and parole offices.  One Democrat claimed that this bill would "help convicts get onto the voter rolls once they have completed their sentences." 

As many who are paying attention to the New Jersey Democrats' agenda already know, the Democrats are very keen on extending voter registration to prison inmates convicted of crimes of all kinds.  Essentially, they want to turn prisons into massive get-out-the-vote operations in order to swing an election or two.  Is A-2014 a first step down that road? 

What is even more curious is what's left out of the bill.  Why isn't a potential voter automatically signed-up when he or she pays property taxes or the state income tax?  How about when someone applies for a hunting or fishing license -- or a firearms permit?  What about automatic registration when you apply for any one of the licenses required to operate a small business or a professional license or a license for self-employment? 

If the goal is to "increase voter turnout" -- then why not cast a wider net?  

The Democrats appear to know exactly which voters they want this law to reach and those they don't much care about.  We hope that A-2014 wasn't the product of mere cynicism and that some good will come from it. 

As for "increasing voter turnout", one suggestion does come to our mind and that is providing voters with more choices.  We'd love to see more parties but in much of New Jersey there are not even two.  In this year's Freeholder races in Sussex County, for instance, the Sussex County Democrats didn't even turn in petitions to run.  That means that only Republicans will be on the ballot in November.

Sussex County isn't alone.  In many other places the Republicans failed to turn in petitions.  Nobody needs a new law to address this.  Just candidates.  One party elections are a good way to kill turnout.

Wednesday
Apr112018

On Facebook, two Freeholders contradict their vote for more debt.

Politicians sometimes forget that Facebook is public.  In all that fake bonhomie and throwing around of "likes" they forget.

And so it was a couple days ago, when a Newton councilman reflected on how the sale of a large commercial property in Newton would negatively impact residents in terms of property taxes.  Just days before, the Sussex County Freeholder Board had voted to fund the purchase of that property by the Sussex County Community College, through incurring more debt.

Curiously, two of the Freeholders who voted for that purchase and for more debt put up "likes" next to the Councilman's comments in opposition to what they had done.  Strange.

Now here is a question for voters:  Do you know who your elected freeholders are well enough to identify the names of the two?

Comments are open.

Wednesday
Apr042018

Warren County is set to cut county property taxes

Under the leadership of outgoing Freeholder Director Ed Smith, Warren County cut spending and debt and held the line on property taxes.  Because of their fiscal discipline, now the Warren County Freeholders can actually cut property taxes for county residents.

Here are a few of the headlines from Warren County...

Warren County looking at lowest budget in 9 years

www.wfmz.com/news/western-new-jersey/warren-county-looking...budget.../21564666

Feb 25, 2016 - WHITE TWP., N.J. - For the first time since 2012, Warren County is looking at a balanced budget, according to freeholders. Warren County officials moved forward with the 2016 budget Wednesday , setting their eyes on attracting new business to the county. The proposed budget shows no tax increase and ...

Warren Co. Freeholders pass 2017 budget with no tax increase

www.wfmz.com/news/western-new-jersey/warren-co...pass...budget.../409621003

Mar 22, 2017 - Warren County Freeholders passed the 2017 county budget with no tax levy increases Wednesday night.

Warren County keeps taxes flat in lowest budget since 2005 ...

www.lehighvalleylive.com/warren-county/index.../warren_countys_918m_budget.ht...

Mar 24, 2017 - Warren County's $91.8 million spending plan for 2017 provides for a new library location and continued courthouse repairs without any added impact to taxpayers. The annual budget -- the county's lowest since 2005 -- was unanimously approved by the three-member freeholder board this week. Spending ... 

In contrast, we have Sussex County.  Our residents have seen property taxes, spending, and debt go up every year.  

Freeholders introduce budget, up 3.47 percent with tax hike

Posted: Mar. 24, 2017 12:01 am 

The budget is a 3.47 percent increase from last year's $109.4 million budget and the total tax levy would increase by nearly $4.3 million to $89.14 million countywide.

The proposed budget would increase taxes $61.70 per $100,000 of assessed value on the average homeowner. The tax rate is 53 cents per $100 of assessed value, compared to 50 cents per $100 of assessed value last year.

It is time for Sussex County to follow Warren County in adopting a no borrowing without voter approval ordinance.  It is a reform that leads to less spending. less debt, and lower property taxes.  It will end back room deals and the hard sell-jobs by so-called county "experts."  Just the facts, transparency, open discussion, and then the voters -- the taxpayers -- decide.

 

Monday
Oct302017

Perez, Boxer, and the $518,000 solar study scam 

Matthew Boxer was the State Comptroller from January 2008 until December 2013.  Before taking this position, Mr. Boxer was an associate with the New York City law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.  After leaving office, he returned to that firm as a partner.

Most residents of Sussex County are aware of the scandal that involved a public-private partnership to install solar panels on local government buildings, using federal subsidies.  As it turned out, the private entity responsible for the work was under-capitalized, failed to pay the contractor doing the work, was sued by the contractor, and the project stopped.  The cost to taxpayers in Sussex County is estimated at upwards of $40 million.

Sussex was one of three counties involved in this project -- Somerset and Morris were the others.  Lacking its own agency, Sussex County worked through the Morris County Improvement Authority (MCIA), although each county made its own individual contracts with the entity, called Sunlight General, a new creation with a board of directors drawn largely from a French bank.

In February 2011, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Sussex County authorized a shared services agreement with the MCIA to implement the solar project.  In July 2011, the project was sent to the Office of the State Comptroller for review.  After reviewing all the project documents, the following month (August 2011), the project was given the okay by the Office of the State Comptroller -- headed up by Mr. Matthew Boxer.  Based the affirmative review given by Mr. Boxer's office, the Sussex County Freeholders went forward with the project.

Apparently, the project was so fashioned that by October 2011, Sussex County had received just one bid -- from Sunlight General.  And so, in that month, the Sussex County Freeholders awarded the contract to Sunlight General.

The Freeholder Boards of Morris, Somerset, and Sussex Counties all signed agreements -- reviewed by the Office of the State Comptroller (Mr. Boxer's office) -- that used taxpayer-secured debt to back up SunLight General's operations.  Unfortunately, the contracts were poorly written, the expected flow of capital was fanciful, the projects poorly planned and executed.  Allow us to quote from the documents supplied by the federal court:

Yes, the Office of the State Comptroller -- Mr. Matthew Boxer's office -- let down the taxpayers of Sussex County.  Matthew Boxer got to move on to his law partnership and the Office of the State Comptroller just keeps on reviewing what it reviews and the residents of Sussex County are left to deal with the $40 million loss in their (higher) property tax bills.  In March 2015, the Freeholder Boards of both Sussex and Morris Counties reached out to the Office of the State Comptroller and formally requested that the State Comptroller review the project -- for a second opinion.

About this time, the name Matthew Boxer resurfaced again, only now it was as part of a proposal to bring in "outside counsel" to review the solar project and what went wrong.  Two members of the Sussex County Freeholder Board, who are very close to Democrat Freeholder candidate Dan Perez, pushed for Mr. Boxer to be brought in for this purpose.  Below is a memo from attorney Dan Perez (now himself a candidate for Sussex County Freeholder) to then Freeholder Gail Phoebus:

In April 2015, the Office of the State Comptroller turned down both Sussex and Morris Counties' requests to review the solar project.  No official reason was ever provided.  However, there is an "unofficial" explanation provided in a May 26, 2015, memo from the MCIA to the Morris County Freeholders.  It goes as follows:

So it appears that the Office of the State Comptroller had conducted a review of the solar project it had signed-off on, but was unwilling to share said review.  The memo continued:

The "post-review decision not to review the matter..."  Wow. 

The Office of the State Comptroller's recalcitrance to share the review that they had already conducted or to take that review further was a loss to the taxpayers of Sussex County, but a boon to former State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who was now being touted as the only man to do a review that was to be paid for by fresh taxpayer's money.

And so, it came to pass that in January 2016 a new Freeholder Board in Sussex County -- now controlled by the very same individuals who had been for months advocating for the selection of Matthew Boxer as the only man to review the solar project -- handed Matthew Boxer a contract for $500,000 to conduct said review.

The manner in which this contract was provided to Mr. Boxer was curious, and remains unexplained to this day.  In a letter, dated January 19, 2016, a Sussex County Freeholder wrote to Mr. Boxer's firm inquiring how he came by it.  Here is what he wrote:

To this day, this Freeholder -- a respected member of the community in Sussex County and a veteran of the Korean War -- has never received the courtesy of a reply.  Why not? 

So the Freeholder wrote to the State Ethics Commission and noted the following:

To which the State Ethics Commission replied:

The word "facts" is used when "representations" might be more appropriate.  As the State Ethics Commission did not conduct its own review of the Office of the State Comptroller's "records and emails... correspondence... other documents", it is clear that they are simply accepting Mr. Boxer at his word.

Doesn't it seem strange to claim that the person in charge of an office was so lax as to have no knowledge of what was a three-county project involving -- to start -- $100 million.  And that his office reviewed nearly a dozen similar contracts involving many more millions in public money.  Okay. let's accept that Mr. Boxer was a "delegator" without direct, day-to-day knowledge about the office he was responsible for.  How did he come to be recommended as the sole recipient of a $500,000 contract to review what his office failed in reviewing at the start? 

In its reply, the State Ethics Commission expressly invited further inquiry:

It is time for the Freeholders to establish a citizen's commission to investigate this corrupt mess and call those who have benefited to account.  Make someone like Harvey Roseff the chairman and you won't need to spend a half million dollars of taxpayers' money (property tax money!) to get the job done.