Buried amid the recent frenzy of legislative activity in Trenton was the continuation of one of Gov. Chris Christie’s most shameless acts during his time in the big chair — hiding public information that would embarrass him.
Actually Christie’s done that more than once. The secret taxpayer-funded expenses of his security team while out on the presidential campaign trail comes to mind, for instance.
But a veto this week cuts right to the core of one of the governor’s supposed greatest achievements — reining in to some small degree New Jersey’s property tax growth.
Christie has long boasted that his initiatives, particularly the 2 percent cap on budget growth, have helped to at least slow the steady rise in New Jersey’s notoriously high property taxes. The numbers back that up — sort of. The growth has indeed slowed a bit, but the net increase —meaning the amount of money coming out of taxpayers’ pockets — hasn’t. That’s because the governor has also gutted rebate programs, which provided more significant and widespread relief under previous regimes.
So it’s the net growth that tells the full, darker story, but Christie doesn’t want the public to see that. So he had those numbers erased from the state website last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature answered back by pushing forward a bill to restore those numbers.
There’s no defensible reason for the secrecy. The administration has concocted stories about how the net growth numbers are confusing and don’t properly illuminate the tax landscape. Christie explained in his veto message that the net growth figures are nonsensical and mislead people about who receives rebates.
Thanks governor, nice of you to want to spoon out only that information that you think citizen simpletons can digest. Sorry, though, we don’t need state officials protecting us from the complexities of tax data. Just give us the numbers and we can do with them what we will.
Christie’s veto was a conditional one, technically, but there’s no actual effort to make the measure work. Instead Christie offered snarky little suggestions like also adding credit ratings and elected officials’ compensation for each municipality onto the site.
The irony of all this is that Christie has a valid argument to make that he has achieved something meaningful. It’s wildly inefficient to collect tax money that’s only going to be returned in rebates — and when the state needs that revenue for other needs, the rebates dry up anyway. So while rebates may keep those net numbers in check, we’d prefer the money just stay in the hands of residents all along. Put another way, reducing taxes is more effective than raising rebates, and that is what Christie is trying to do.
So the governor should explain that, publicly. Be transparent and let New Jerseyans draw their conclusions from the facts. Instead Christie opts for secrecy once again because he knows the numbers don’t look good. It’s an alarmingly common theme of his administration.