Jersey Devil is in Details Over Property Tax/School Formula

New Jersey has an interesting predicament. It needs to dissolve some school districts because they, you know, don’t actually have any students. However, some residents are up in arms because doing away with the districts would boost their property taxes. Alan Greenblatt of Governing writes:

New Jersey has just 21 counties, but it has more than 600 school districts. Although merging small districts is a problem everywhere, New Jersey’s system is so out of whack that it borders on comedy. This year, the state took what it thought was an easy first step: closing districts that don’t actually operate any schools. But even that has proven to be controversial.

Several other states allow what are known as “non-operating districts.” These have school boards and part-time staffers who take care of paperwork—largely writing checks to a neighboring district for educating the kids they send over. But they have no students and no schools. “This was a prime target to go after,” says Lucille Davy, the state education commissioner. “Clearly, it’s not efficient to have a whole system in place, with employees who are not educating any children.”

But when the state moved in July to shut down half of its 26 non-operating districts, it ran into surprising resistance. Residents of those districts groused that their property taxes would shoot up because the funding formula would switch from a per-pupil calculation to one based on home values. “When you look at the individual situations,” says Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the state school board association, “you realize that most of these arrangements are in place because it was cheaper to send their students to another district.”

The state is allowing the non-operating districts to phase in tax increases over a multi-year period. State Representative John Burzichelli, a sponsor of the legislation that led to the closures, says that the increased bite these communities are now facing reflects the fact that they have been enjoying a tax haven. Writing a check to cover an individual pupil’s education didn’t reflect the neighboring district’s full costs, including its administrative burdens. As taxes rise within the shuttered districts, they should go down by a concomitant amount within the districts that actually hold classes. And the costs of staff and paperwork in the closed districts go away.

Chamber Fighting Job Killers at Statehouse

As the 2009 Indiana legislative session rolls on and more and more Hoosiers find themselves without employment, we’d like to present the list of bills that we’re labelling "job killers." These bills are simply bad for business and employees in the Hoosier State.

Here’s the list that includes the bill’s number, title and author (we’ll attach our full Legislative Agenda at the end of the post):

  • HB 1014 Age Discrimination (V. Smith)
  • HB 1024 Family Leave Small Employers (Day)
  • HB 1057 Collective Bargaining for Public Employees (Kersey)
  • HB 1162 Environmental Permits and Local Government (Tyler)
  • HB 1167 Actions Based Upon Exposure to Hazardous Substances (Tyler)
  • HB 1183 Collective Bargaining for State Employees (Blanton)
  • HB 1207 Nutritional Information at Food Establishments (C. Brown)
  • HB 1272 Illegal Immigration (Pelath)
  • HB 1273 Local Major Moves Construction Funds (Pelath)
  • HB 1299 Payment to Health Providers Without Contracts (Welch)
  • HB 1338 Incentives Provided by IEDC (Pelath)
  • HB 1353 Employee Personal Leave (Dvorak)
  • HB 1371 Paid Breaks and Sick Leave for Employees (Blanton)
  • HB 1382 Insurance Coverage for Clinical Trials (Welch)
  • HB 1461 Collective Bargaining for School Employees (Kersey)
  • HB 1488 Unauthorized Aliens (Eberhart)
  • HB 1492 Environmental Litigation Expenses Compensation (Fry)
  • HB 1495 Lead in Children’s Products (VanDenburgh)
  • HB 1548 Variable Local Option Income Taxes (Thompson)
  • HB 1549 Elimination of Property Taxes (Thompson)
  • HB 1621 Broadband Deployment Council (Pierce)
  • HB 1656 State and Local Highway Funding (Austin)
  • HB 1674 Repeal of Valuation Method for Certain Property (V. Smith)
  • HB 1679 Human Toxic Exposure Program (Dvorak)
  • SB 36 Renewable Energy Standards (Lanane)
  • SB 75 Payment to Health Providers WIthout Contracts (Gard)
  • SB 314 State Economic Development Incentives (Errington)
  • SB 347 Coverage for Care Related to Clinical Trials for Cancer (Gard)
  • SB 372 Unauthorized Immigration Matters (Kruse)
  • SB 428 Parental Leave for School Conferences (Errington)
  • SB 431 Unfair Claim Settlement Practices (Paul)
  • SB 437 Coverage for Cancer Chemotherapy (Becker/Lawson)
  • SB 456 Local Enforcement of Environmental Laws (Lanane/Deig/Breaux)
  • SB 467 Enforcement Wage Requirements (Mrvan)
  • SB 468 Merchant’s Collection Allowance (Mrvan)
  • SB 474 Local Sales Taxes (Stutzman)
  • SB 513 Homestead Property Taxes and Sales/Use Taxes (M. Young)
  • SB 540 Consumer Commodities (Simpson)
  • SB 541 Various Tax Matters (Hershman)
  • SJR 1 Circuit Breakers and Other Property Tax Matters (Kenley)
  • SJR 3 Homesteads Exempt from Property Tax (M. Young)
  • SJR 8 Constitutional Amendment on Circuit Breaker (Mrvan)

As promised, here is our 2009 Legislative Agenda. The agenda illustrates summaries of each bill (as some bill titles can be deceptive), and why we oppose or support the measure.

Vote “Yes” to Transfer Township Assessor Duties to County

We’ve sung the praises of MySmartGov before, but just want to reiterate the importance of the Township Assessor question by referencing the site, which outlines why this is such an important subject for taxpayers:

Until recently, property in Indiana was assessed by 1,008 township assessors in 1,008 different ways. Some assessors’ work may have been impeccable, but the taxpayers in their townships still may have been paying more than their fair share of taxes because of the less competent job by an assessor down the road.

In fact, a 2005 study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute found that 80 percent of the townships did not meet international standards for uniformity. The assessments were well outside the accepted error rate of plus or minus 15 percent – that is, international standards say it is acceptable for a $100,000 house to be assessed anywhere from $85,000 to $115,000.

Our advice: You want to vote "Yes" on the ballot question, "Should the assessing duties of the elected township assessor in the township be transferred to the county assessor?"

But will you even be able to vote on this important initiative? Check here to see if your township will be voting on the matter.

We’ve Got to STOP Governing Like This

The title of this post was the subtitle of the December 2007 report from the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform. Seven people (led by co-chairs Joe Kernan and Randy Shepard) took six months to listen to Indiana residents, pour over past studies and reports, and determine that the structure of local government in Indiana is a mess.

While they did issue 27 recommendations, few in power were admittedly ready to act. After all, the top three issues in the 2008 General Assembly were property taxes, property taxes and property taxes. One of the results of property tax reform is less money for local government operations. Now, maybe even those entrenched in the current system will realize we can’t continue to conduct business as usual in a system that was set up in the 1850s.

Indiana has more than 3,200 local units of government and nearly 11,000 local elected officials. Over 400,000 people don’t have access to public library services. Public safety is at risk due to ineffective communications between safety agencies. An Evansville Business magazine article recalled a prospective downtown business owner in that city having to attend 27 meetings in 15 days in the attempt to get his company off the ground. That’s ridiculous.

It’s not the people within the system who are at fault; it’s the structure that prevents them from operating most effectively and efficiently.

Read the Indiana Chamber letter. View the one-minute video summary. Review the commission report. Let us know what you think.