Property taxes top issue in Senate race

Staff Writer


Staff Writer

Just about everybody agrees that escalating property taxes are placing a tremendous burden on New Jersey residents.

It is no surprise that tax reform is becoming a major issue with the state Legislature, especially for the two candidates running for the state Senate in the 18th Legislative District. In the Nov. 4 general election, incumbent Democrat Barbara Buono and Republican challenger Richard F. Plechner are competing for a four-year term.

Buono, 50, Metuchen, said she supports a tax convention, targeted for April 2005, to address the issue of tax reform in the state.

Plechner, 70, Metuchen, said that a substantial tax relief plan should be implemented immediately.

The 18th Legislative District includes East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Metuchen, South Plainfield, South River and Spotswood.

A full-time legislator, Buono was elected to the Senate for a two-year term in 2001. Prior to that, she served on the Assembly for seven years, after winning a special election in December 1994.

Buono became the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Budget Committee, and established a reputation as a consensus builder during the state’s challenging financial times.

She said that a tax convention would be an effort to achieve a consensus for any tax reform that might be implemented in the future.

Holding a tax convention would involve the public by placing the question of whether to have the convention on the ballot, possibly in 2004, Buono said.

"This would engage the public in the decision-making policy," Buono said. "I have been an advocate for tax reform in New Jersey, but it has to be done properly. A bill authorizing a tax convention would have to point out that tax reform would have to be the specific purpose of the convention."

Plechner, a former Superior Court judge, said that he is absolutely opposed to waiting for such a convention.

"Our legislators should bite the bullet and do the job they were elected to do," Plechner said. "They should not shift their responsibility to other people who do not have to answer to the voters for their actions."

Buono said that she has been an advocate of tax reform, but said that such reform should be forthcoming under strict guidelines.

"There is no doubt that real estate taxes at the municipal, county and school [levels] are placing a tremendous burden on the state’s taxpayers," Buono said. "We do need some kind of tax reform but there has to be a proper way to achieve that tax relief. I believe that a tax convention is the right way to go about achieving this relief."

Plechner, however, said steps to implement tax relief should be taken immediately and offered a six-point tax relief plan that he said could be implemented without having to go through the process of creating a tax convention.

Plechner said a convention would only rearrange the methods of collecting taxes, but would not address the issue of state spending.

"The Legislature can — and should — do both," Plechner said. "New Jersey residents need tax relief now, not a vague promise that it will be considered sometime in 2005."

Plechner’s proposal calls for streamlining of state government, eliminating redundant and unnecessary jobs and departments, eliminating "pay-to-play," a system of awarding state contracts to the companies and contractors that make the largest political contributions, and requiring large developers to pay more of their fair share for infrastructure costs that would otherwise be passed on to taxpayers.

Plechner’s proposal also calls for merging school districts to help reduce school taxes and eliminating nuisance taxes that hurt those who can least afford them, increased college tuition and fees, and higher drivers’ license fees. He said low-income school districts must be held more accountable for the large sums of money being spent for minimal results.