Property taxes are the most urgent issue facing New Jersey, Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said during an Oct. 12 address at Rider University.
Guadagno has based her campaign platform on making the state more affordable. New Jersey’s 2.35 percent property tax rate is the highest in the country, followed by Illinois, New Hampshire and Connecticut, according to the New York Times. Princeton ranked 12th in a NJ.com listing of 30 towns with the highest property taxes in the state last February. The average property tax bill in Princeton was $18,333, while the average home value is $809,991.
“The problems for New Jerseyans today are simply stated in one word — affordability,” Guadagno said. “We can no longer afford to live here. We can find quality jobs here, at least compared to eight years ago, but we can’t afford to live here anymore. The number one problem facing us here today is property taxes.”
Guadagno, who enjoys giving out her personal phone number to the public, says the issues New Jersey residents call her about have become more and more complex over her eight years in office.
“People used to call me about red tape,” the former Monmouth County sheriff said. “But now it’s, ‘I can’t find a bed for my son, he just overdosed for the third time.’ Now it’s ‘I have to choose between putting food on my table and paying my property taxes’ and ‘I can’t put my kids through college.’ Those are all problems that have to be fixed, and that’s not even half of them.”
Guadagno claimed Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, does not have a plan for property tax relief.
“Phil Murphy’s plan for addressing the number one problem in New Jersey is as follows — all of you should make more money,” Guadagno said. “And if you don’t make more money you should take the $9 billion he claims we underfunded schools, and put it into schools so we fully fund the school formula, and that’s how your taxes will go down.
“That $9 billion comes from you — where else is it going to come from? I could think about selling the State House, but that’s being renovated,” she added, hinting at her opposition to the $300 million renovation project.
Phil Murphy’s campaign website says the candidate plans to ease the state’s property tax burden by “funding our schools, restoring rebates for seniors and low-income residents, and incentivizing towns to share services.”
In the Oct. 10 gubernatorial debate, when asked about whether ending the state’s arbitration cap on police salaries would inflate property taxes, Guadagno said she would extend the cap because it would save taxpayers “billions of dollars.” Murphy said he will “make a decision based on the facts,” in anticipation of an upcoming December report on the cap. A non-scientific survey conducted by Asbury Park Press revealed that about 58 percent of respondents thought Guadagno had a better stance on property taxes, while 32 favored Murphy.
Guadagno said her relief plan would save residents about $800 a year. She aims to slash property taxes by $3,000 for homeowners who pay over 5 percent of their income on school taxes.
“I decided to find something that works someplace else in this country, that I could get a Democratic-controlled legislature to agree upon,” Guadagno said. “I went to Massachusetts and Illinois and pulled their formula. They call it a circuit breaker. It’s the same thing I’ve proposed. You should never have to pay more than 5 percent of your household income for school property taxes. If I’m retiring – that’ll be up to you – or if you’re a millennial who wants to buy a house but you’re afraid taxes are going up too fast and too high, or if you’re a two-income family and you lose one income — under this plan, you’re property taxes will go down.”
Guadagno said she also plans to create more jobs, and said she has helped bring down the employment rate during her term as the first lieutenant governor. During Guadagno’s eight years in office, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 4.5, she said.
“There are more people working in New Jersey today than ever before in the history of the state,” Guadagno said, followed by applause from the audience. “We did that together, all of us, we created a partnership for action that worked very hard to market New Jersey out of state and bring companies here. Then, we set up a system for finding companies that have one foot out the door and another on a bar of soap, and trying to convince them to stay here.”
Business owners in New Jersey are concerned about rising property taxes driving residents out of the state, she said.
“Their number one complaint is that we cannot afford to have people live here, they’re driving from Pennsylvania or New York and taking our jobs,” she said. “I moved here in 1991, and I’m not moving anywhere else. And I want my children and my grandchildren to be raised here. The only way that’s going to happen is if we lower the cost of living in New Jersey, and the only way I think that could happen is if we lower property taxes. I don’t know how ironic you think it is that I’m standing up here as a former federal corruption prosecutor, but I do this because I want to fix it. If you choose to elect me to fix it, then hold me to it.”