Seek Shelter: a New Jersey Tax Storm is Coming

Appeared in the Burlington County Times and the Pine Barrens Tribune

New Jerseyans know their fair share about slush. It’s the nasty stuff that builds up on the side of our overcrowded roads during the winter when the rain meets the snow. The exhaust from cars mucks it up and turns it into an eyesore every year.

That’s not the only slush we’re privy to in this state. We also know a lot about slush funds - those unknown places our taxes go never to be seen again. No matter how high our property taxes get or what new state tax is created, it’s never enough to feed the insatiable appetite of a good old New Jersey slush fund.

That’s why when our state introduced legislation to start a new one, I voted against it, and since it has passed, I’ve done everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t get implemented in my district.

The slush funds I’m talking about are stormwater utilities. These utilities would give towns and counties the ability to enact a “Rain Tax” on its citizens and businesses. I’ve started a “No Rain Tax” campaign to ask towns and counties to pass a resolution that they will not enact this tax on their people. So far, six of my 20 towns have taken the pledge.

Like most laws that ask for more money, this one, which allows localities to create a stormwater utility, was wrapped up in a benevolent cause to make it palatable to the masses.

The pitch is that rain water hits our impervious surfaces and washes nasty stuff to our waterways. To clean this up, we need to create a utility to order projects and contracts and pay for that utility by taxing residents and businesses for how long their driveways are or how big their roofs are.

They forgot to tell you one big thing: Towns already have stormwater management plans, run by Public Works departments and paid for by our highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

They also forgot to tell you that, under this new law, 5 percent of the tax collected will have to go to the state and another 5 percent can be used on a locality’s general fund. Not even one year into the law and 10 percent of the funds will be wrestled away for unintended purposes. We all know that number only goes up in Trenton.

Instead of continuing to budget for stormwater cleanup with the money residents already pay, we’re going to create a new fund, take 10 percent off the top and pay new employees to run the fund. Soon enough, the son-in-law of a politically connected person will be making $150,000 as the Stormwater Utility Director of Burlington County with an assistant director making six figures right under him. I’ve watched this movie many times before.

Let’s not talk in hypotheticals. Instead, let’s look to Maryland where a Stormwater Manager averages about $78,000 and go up to $140,000 in some towns. Imagine having a couple of those in every town as well as a DPW Director. Or we can look to Greencastle, PA, where their rain tax keeps on rising. This year, the average homeowner will pay $250 for the year and businesses will average $1,600.

Every new tax has a good cause tied to it. If it didn’t, then it would never be brought up in the first place. I’m pro-science. I believe in climate change. I believe that we have issues with our environment that need to be tackled, but I also believe that you can’t throw money at every problem and expect it to go to the right place. New taxes will not fix the root cause of money mismanagement.

New Jerseyans pay more than their fair share and deserve a transparent government that budgets their taxes correctly so that environmental issues can be solved with the money that is already out there. We need smart money, not new money. Giving more money to this state is like leaving too much food out for your dog. Although you love him and you want to trust him, you know he’s never going to stop eating.

Creating new slush funds creates a fatter New Jersey, and it’s about time we slim down a bit.