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Bill That Would Prohibit Citizens from Challenging Tax Valuations and Exemptions Advances in NJ Assembly

A bill sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) that would prohibit residents from challenging the tax valuations and tax exemptions of properties other than their own cleared a committee this week and will be put before the full assembly for a vote.

If the legislation is passed, citizens in New Jersey would no longer be able to challenge property assessments they think are too low. They would also be unable to challenge the tax-exempt status of properties in court, meaning a lawsuit like the current one in which residents are challenging the tax-exempt status of Princeton University properties could never be filed.

Supporters and opponents of the bill attended the committee hearing on Tuesday at the State House, but most attendees did not speak.

Supporters include the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey, the League of Municipalities, and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey represents private colleges and universities in the state, including Princeton University. The New Jersey Business and Industry Association represents more than 20,000 companies in the state, including contractors, manufacturers, retailers and wholesale businesses.

Currently, a taxpayer who questions the assessed valuation or exempt status of another taxpayer’s property can file an appeal with the county board of taxation or file a complaint with the state tax court if the assessed valuation of the property subject to the appeal exceeds $1 million.

Government supporters of the bill argue that the legislation would save towns money by limiting property taxpayers to filing property tax appeals concerning their own property. They say local governments are the best suited to challenge the assessment or exempt status of a property whenever the owner is not involved.

A handful of residents attended the hearing to oppose the legislation, which they say will benefit only the powerful.

Taxpayers would have no remedy against a corrupt or otherwise unethical mayor, council or tax assessor to correct improperly agreed to assessments, opponents of the bill say. Power would be taken away from citizens to challenge local government.

“We need checks and balances and the current provision of the law is an effective and simple one that has stood the test of time,” said Princeton resident Joe Small, a former presiding judge of the Tax Court of New Jersey and former chief counsel of the New Jersey Division of Taxation. “Depriving the taxpayers of this long held right might in fact be unconstitutional.”

Small also said one mechanism for deterring, preventing, or correcting illicitly arrived at assessments would be taken off the books, with no indication that there is another equally effective remedy remaining.

Opponents of the legislation also point out that no study has been done by the New Jersey Legislature that looks at what other states do to protect their taxpayers from local government corruption when it comes to property assessments.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Dan D’Menny

    Well said. Reed Gusciora, now safely ensconced in a Dem district, appears to have been “highly influenced” by those who have a lot of power, and deep pockets. I was hoping for better, but I am not surprised.

  • Alexi Assmus

    The power of large non-profit and for-profit institutions working together with government has become too great in our country, and there needs to be push back by individual citizens to right the balance. This bill is going the wrong way — it would take away even the legal right — which is so skewed in favor of those who have the funds to pay for legal battles — of citizens to challenge large institutions in how taxes are assessed between private citizens and powerfully large entities.

  • Peter Marks

    I could not agree more strongly with Joe Small. By now it should be obvious that University expansion clogs our streets, stresses our municipal budget, and crowds our schools. The remedy sought is always more revenue — i.e. higher taxes, from which the University that is the source of our budget problems has been largely exempted, and would continue to be exempted if the Reed Guscioras of the world have their way.

    The Gusciora proposal is a travesty, not least because it arrives as the University finds itself in the unaccustomed position of having to defend its various tax exemptions in litigation — brought by private citizens — that our state courts have thus far permitted to advance.

    Where is our Council when we need them?

  • Ilpapa16

    If the covers can effectively be taken off of the background, impetus and sponsoring of this bill it will undoubtedly fall at the footsteps of Princeton University and other large institutional concerns that take advantage of their size and positions of power to subrogate those that do not have similar leverage. Thanks to Joe Small for setting things straight. Citizens all over the state of NJ need to watch this carefully, especially those of us here in Princeton that are heavily taxed and burdened.

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