I have had the great privilege of living my entire life in New Jersey — born, raised, educated, worked, and raising a family of my own in our great state. Fortunately, two of my children have put roots down here with three of my grandchildren.
Sadly, for countless New Jersey residents, the same cannot be said. The heavy cost of living and unmanageable tax environment have led to a mass exodus. Every day, residents are left with no choice but to seek a more affordable location away from homes, friends, and families just to financially survive.
As a legislator, I have witnessed elected officials ally themselves with the same stakeholders, interest groups, and political machines that seek to maintain the stranglehold they have on New Jersey's future — the current administration is not excluded. We are in a cyclical motion, reliving past financial mistakes and failing to correct them when the opportunity arises.
Our bonded debt has reached $48 billion with more than $150 billion additionally in unfunded obligations to government workers; New Jersey has written too many checks that it cannot cash. We are ranked 49th for economic performance and the worst state in the country to retire in. Also, we cannot forget the issue always on the minds of taxpayers — high property taxes.
In a state where property taxes can soar above $15,000 in some areas, it is no surprise that a majority of New Jerseyans are plagued by this burden. Even at the $8,690 state average property tax, current residents struggle to maintain their homes and future homeowners are looking toward greener pastures across state lines. Is it any wonder why governors from other states, such as Texas, are advertising in our newspapers to attract residents away from the Garden State, both retirees and millennials alike?
One might think our current position would serve as an incentive to reclaim our competitiveness and provide relief, but Trenton still fiddles as the state metaphorically burns. This is evident in the budget talks over the summer that not only increased overall taxes but attempted to deprive funding to the Homestead Rebate Property Tax Relief Program. If it were not for bipartisan effort and public outcry, the already modest program would have been slashed in half.
The public must become more involved in cultivating New Jersey's future. Every resident should engage with one another, keep an eye on the actions of elected officials, and make use of existing sources to become better informed.
Taxpayers should use platforms such as WheresTheOutrage.com, which I started to highlight shocking policies floating around Trenton, or FairPropertyTaxesForAllNewJersey.com, formed by the educational nonprofit Citizens for Accountable Taxation, which breaks down our tax system and acts as a resource for every taxpayer.
If there is one thing I have learned during my time in Trenton, it is that my colleagues tend to respond when the public become engaged and make their collective voices heard. There are many ideas and solutions that would have a positive impact on reducing New Jersey's high cost of living; however, they will only be considered if the public demands fiscal responsibility.