Monday, August 17, 2015

Sen. Mike Doherty on Steve Fulop: "If it’s good for Jersey City then screw everyone else"

Life is good for Mayor Steve Fulop of Jersey City.  Not only is his city doing so well that he can pull off that miraculous trick of governance of expanding services AND cutting taxes, but his own personal life is going great too, purchasing a townhouse in the Heights for $739,000 $845,000 with his girlfriend.  

The house has old-fashioned charm, three bedrooms, and a fantastic view of Jersey City and the NYC skyline.  Maybe best of all, it's total tax bill is only $7,700 a year!  Sweet!  Steve Fulop does not have children, but if he did they would get "free" Pre-K just for living in Jersey City too.  Sweet!

Sen. Michael Doherty, however, isn't among those congratulating Steve Fulop or sending a housewarming gift.  

Mean Mike Doherty even had the gall to question the fairness of how a Jersey City resident could pay a tax bill that is only a third of what people living in most other NJ towns would pay on the same property.  Doherty knows that Jersey City gets $490,000,000 in aid for its schools per year and knows that that huge subsidy enables Jersey City to have extremely low taxes.  Since there is only one Jersey City resident who is running for governor, Doherty used Steve Fulop himself as the emblem of that tax issue.

Now here is where I get serious.  Taxes are obscenely high in most of New Jersey.  It's true that someone with a $700k $800k house living most elsewhere would pay close to $25,000-$30,000.  The tax rate makes it hard for all of us to save for retirement and our children's educations, it separates families by forcing retirees out, and it deprives people of livlihoods here as businesses move out.  Steve Fulop, however, personally benefits from the fact that Jersey City has done done a reassessment since 1988 and receives so much state aid for education that it can make do with a 0.5878 school tax rate.

Steve Fulop's response to this legitimate economic and moral issue was completely callous.  Rather than acknowledging the basis of the complaint and attributing blame to Christie or the legislature or perhaps somehow defending Jersey City's state aid, Fulop just insulted Doherty:

"it is a little creepy that Sen. Doherty would pry closely into the Mayor's personal life in order to grandstand. If Sen. Doherty solved problems in Trenton instead of stalking Mayor Fulop, I am sure his constituents would actually realize a benefit."

Pry closely?  Please.  Political enemies "pried closely" into Bill Clinton's personal life.  Looking up a gubernatorial candidate's property taxes is not "prying closely."

At least Marie Antoinette offered the peasants cake, but Steve Fulop denies the validity of the peasants (ie, non-Jersey City taxpayers) even having a complaint.  All major politicians release their tax returns and property taxes are not private even for regular people, so Steve Fulop cannot hide behind the curtain of his "personal life" to shield himself from questions about the fairness of Jersey City's state aid.  The reason Sen. Doherty used Fulop as an example is that Steve Fulop is the only person from Jersey City running for governor.

Jersey City's low taxes are primarily due to it receiving massive state aid for its schools.  Just how high is Jersey City's aid?  

Jersey City receives $420 million from state taxpayers for K-12 aid and another $67.5 million for Pre-K aid.

Although Jersey City should get more aid than most suburbs, Jersey City also has the ability to pay much more in taxes than it does and if some of Jersey City's aid were redistributed the tax burden would be lighter elsewhere and services better funded.

Doherty doesn't get into this in detail, but Jersey City's local school tax levy is $110 million on $18.6 billion of (official, non-PILOTed) equalized valuation.  This is lower than West Orange's $125 million local school levy on only $5.8 billion in valuation.  Jersey City's $110 million is less than the $112 million local tax levy that Newark pays on $13.9 billion in valuation.  

Even not counting its "invisible" PILOTed property wealth, Jersey City is overaided by $111.7 million.   That unmerited aid would be almost enough to bring the districts that get less than 50% of their SFRA aid up to 50%.    

Fulop refuses to address the substance of Doherty's criticism.  He does not have any recognition of the fact that there are problems in how NJ distributes school aid and that Jersey City is part of the problem.  Every dollar that Jersey City clings to is one dollar less available for underaided districts like Egg Harbor Township, Chesterfield (which gets 11% of its uncapped aid), West Orange, Paterson (which just laid off 360 staff members).  Elected officials, especially ones who want to be governor, need to have some compassion on taxes too.

Mike Doherty insulted Fulop back for his "infantilism," but also had the maturity and knowledge to know that the fault was not entirely Fulop's:

Although irritated by Fulop’s answer to the criticism, Doherty said he doesn’t blame him so much as Republican Governor Chris Christie. “This issue should have been confronted by Governor Christie,” said the Warren-based Senator. “This is the classic opportunity for Chris Christie to step in, but unfortunately it’s not a top priority. Everyone’s supposed to play by the same set of rules and Jersey City is not. In Jersey City, the per capita income is higher than one of my towns – Hackettstown – but Jersey City gets 70% of its school budget paid for by New Jersey taxpayers while Hackettstown gets 16%.” 
Doherty pointed out that Jersey City has a per capita income of $30,490 per 2010 census. JC receives $485,970,438 (including pre-K) from state for its schools and spends a total of $680,134,496.  State contributes 71.45% of the total spending as state aid. The senator represents Hackettstown, which has a per capita income of $29,433 per 2010 census. Hackettstown receives $5,101,229 from the state for its schools and spends a total of $31,473,395.  State contributes 16.2% of the total spending as state aid.
Indeed.  Hackettstown only has $955 million in property valuation for 1,911 students, or barely $500,000 per student.  Even aside from its PILOTed property, Jersey City has more per student than that.  

Hackettstown gets barely $2,600 per student.  Not counting its Pre-K aid, Jersey City gets $12,500 per student.  Hackettstown also gets $0 for Pre-K.  

Steve Fulop is no reformer.  He appears to be completely ignorant of state aid issues and the privilege that he and Jersey City enjoy.  Since his low taxes are partially due to Jersey City not doing a reevaluation since 1988, Fulop presides over a system that is internally unfair within Jersey City.  Sen. Doherty seems to have gotten it right about Fulop's philosophy of governance:

He’s saying if it’s good for Jersey City, then screw everyone else. 

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