Taxpayers’ cry for help could soon be answered

New Jersey homeowners struggling with unrelenting property tax increases finally have hope that, after all these years, help may be on the way. And while we’re not about to start counting our savings, the mere fact that real reform has become the chief focus in Trenton is good news indeed.

The prospective tax relief comes via 98 recommendations that are included in four reports released last week by state legislative committees that have met to discuss reform over the past three months. The reports recommend everything from increased school aid and property tax credits to a crackdown on dual office holding and state workers’ pensions.

While some of the recommendations are questionable, such as giving property tax credits and at the same time doing away with property tax rebates, which would simply mean putting money in one of our pockets and taking it out of another – others deserve serious consideration.

Also recommended, for example, are more shared services such as police and fire departments, and the establishment of a commission to look at merging certain towns and school districts, something that would ultimately be voted on by residents of those locales.

Many of these suggestions are sure to be met with opposition – and one such measure would be the idea of holding school elections during the November general elections in order to avoid duplicate polling costs. The idea, designed also to increase participation in the school vote, is already opposed by the New Jersey School Boards Assoc-iation, which fears it will only serve to politicize the school board candidate elections. The association does, on the other hand, support the recommendation to eliminate school budget elections for budgets that are already under a state-imposed spending cap.

One suggestion just about everyone will agree with is to increase state funding to school districts by as much as $1 billion a year, thereby taking some of the burden off property taxes. A new formula would dole out that funding based on individual communities’ needs, and also include a mechanism to control school districts’ spending.

The recommendations are still just that, and as Gov. Jon Corzine said last week, the hard part – figuring out how to make them a reality – still lies ahead.

Nonetheless, it seems that the voice of the strapped taxpayer, the average citizen, that is, is finally being heard.