Income tax is way to fund education

Frank Coury

Guest Column

To my knowledge, problems have existed at least since 1968 regarding funding education, truck traffic on the highways and the high cost of rental properties. These problems are even worse today, and, in my opinion, have not been addressed in any meaningful way by our state legislators. Such officials have resorted to political and first-aid solutions instead of earnestly researching and implementing ways to solve the problems.

In 1968, nine elected Assembly members recognized the problems and decided to do something about them. Their first priority was solutions that would not burden anyone. It was agreed that any taxes considered would not be “add-ons” and would follow the Franklin Delano Roosevelt principle that taxes should be levied according to one’s ability to pay. Assembly Bill A330 was drawn up, and it sought to change the method of funding education from property taxes to a dedicated state income tax. Property taxes would be dedicated only to municipal and county expenses.

It was believed that this method of funding education would not only immediately benefit homeowners but would also remove the necessity of attracting industry to residential areas to help fund local school costs. At that time, as now, industries were courted to locate in such areas, and then the businesses required truck traffic to move materials and finished goods and car traffic for personnel.

In 1968 discussions were also being held to determine plans for better use of land in New Jersey. One of the plans, called a strip plan, would provide incentives for manufacturers to locate along railroad lines from Jersey City to Philadelphia. This would facilitate movement of materials, finished goods and personnel by rail, which would lessen the need for trucks and the consequential costs of maintaining highways.

Assembly Bill A330 was presented before the state convention of New Jersey freeholders in 1969, before the state Tax Committee in the same year, and debated in Highland Park among Sen. J. Edward Crabiel, Sen. Norman Tanzman and me, in my capacity as an assemblyman. In every case, the bill was given high marks.

Unfortunately, the bill never came up on the floor for discussion among the members of the Assembly. Why not? The typical Assembly member at the time didn’t want to put his or her name on a bill that would introduce a state income tax — we didn’t have one, and most elected officials believed a state income tax would oust them from office. Sound familiar?

Had the bill been enacted, our property taxes would have been reduced by 60 percent. Think of the effect it would have on rentals and the cost of owning a home. Education would have been funded by a dedicated 5-percent state income tax. Money collected by the state would be sent to local school boards with no strings attached, according to a three-year formula that would be reviewed every three years.

This method of funding education would ensure an equitable level of education, regardless of where one lived in the state. The school systems would know ahead of time how much money they would receive the following year. Municipalities would not be driven to locate manufacturing plants in their communities for the sole purpose of obtaining taxes to fund education. Industrial plants would have an incentive to locate along railroad lines. Home building would be encouraged in communities, without the fear of higher taxes. Open space acquisitions would not be driven by the fear of more children attending school.

For those skeptics who still doubt today that a 5-percent income tax would be sufficient to fund primary and secondary education in New Jersey, let the facts speak for themselves. In 1968 the total income for New Jersey residents was $35 billion. The total cost of primary and secondary education in New Jersey was $1.1 billion — 5 percent was enough. In 2000 the total income for residents of New Jersey was approximately $250 billion, and the cost of education was approximately $11 billion — 5 percent is enough.

This newspaper should host a forum among our representative Assembly members and force them to discuss how to best fund education, including the dedicated tax structure as a consideration. Such a forum would require officials to think and to perhaps come up with a viable solution this year.

Frank Coury is a resident

of East Brunswick