“Ask the Senator” with Sen. Chris Connors
New Jersey state Senator Christopher J. Connors (R), representing the 9th Legislative District, discussed his efforts to curb the heroin epidemic, get a committed seat for South Jersey on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and explained the taxpayer money trail from shore to urban Democratic strongholds where legislators are more numerous and populations denser, on "Ask The Senator," on WOBM News Talk 1160 & 1310 AM earlier this month.
Connors said although Ocean County still is considered rural, it essentially becomes a donor county, meaning money is shipped out and goes to other places.
When North Jersey residents relocate to Ocean County, they're not only paying local school taxes here, but they're still paying school taxes for the district they left, according to Connors.
"That's the truth, because the money is taken out of the pockets of people of rural, suburban areas, and it's put in the 31 Abbott Districts or they have Urban Enterprise Zones, or they had the Hackensack-Meadowlands District Commission. There's all kinds of programs that find a way to have more state aid," said Connors.
Connors compared that issue the other disparity with property tax assessments. He explained, New Jersey's property tax system is based on the value of property, meaning the the higher the value, the more tax the owner pays. As demographics and income levels change, property values change.
"We've seen in Ocean County with the expansion of population, the more people that come to an area, the higher the prices are, the market value goes up and that's what drives prices up, and our towns have been forced by state law to reevaluate whenever there is a disparity between the market value and the assessed value, and they call it a Coefficient of Deviation, and when it reaches a certain percentage, the tax boards and the Division of Taxation say you must revalue," Connors said.
The process can cost towns $250,000 to $500,000 to hire a revaluation company, according to Connors. He pointed out, the other downside is having to live with the consequences of the revaluation, noting that in some instances, taxes can skyrocket.
Connors pointed out that while Little Egg and Lacey Townships, and Galloway Township in Atlantic County, were forced to do revaluations, the New Jersey Department of Treasury now is investigating Dunellen, Elizabeth and Jersey City for not having done a revaluation in almost three decades or longer. He noted that Elizabeth and Jersey City are Abbott Districts.
"They get more state aid and yet their property values have been soaring through the roof in some areas of Jersey City the values have gone up. The tax rate hasn't changed, and there's no incentive for those legislators to change anything because it's working for them," said Connors.
Connors said he encourages people to understand what the Legislative Process is and how public policy works in New Jersey. He explained there's a simple formula: 21, 41 and 1. There are two houses of Legislature and a bill must pass both and be signed by the Governor to become law. There are 40 Legislative Districts comprised geographically by population.
"Our Constitution says they have to have equal number of population, so essentially what they do with a Decennial Census is divide it by 40, and they come with like 238,000 people have to be in each Legislative District," said Connors.
In places more dense areas, such as Newark, Essex County, Connors explained it's much easier to draw smaller district lines for a district than it is in the 9th District of Ocean County, which has larger acreage requirements because it's rural and suburban.
"Our District is the third largest district geographically in the state of New Jersey because it takes the district lines to expand in order to fit 238,000 people in it," Connors said.
While portions of Ocean County may be represented by three or four Senators, and Atlantic and Cape May Counties each have one Senator, in Essex County, there could be five Senators representing just Newark.
"So, when you get in the Legislature and you have 40 Senators representing one Senator for each District and two Assembly person in each District, so that you need a majority in both Houses, you find that the population is such, based on the principle one man one vote, that the votes are in the Urban areas. So, when the District votes are in the Urban areas and you have school districts that are Abbott Districts that are in the Urban areas, that's where the money is going to go, and there's no incentive to change those things, that funding formula," said Connors.
Connors added that legislators who live in rural, suburban areas should be on the same page and form a coalition to have a better chance of representing their interests.
"People have to understand that, that's why a lot of things are they way they are in New Jersey," said Connors.
Connors has had some bi-partisan success. He noted he has worked with Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1st) on some issues. Van Drew is a co-sponsor of Connors' legislation to commit a seat for South Jersey representation on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Currently, no one from Ocean, Atlantic or Cape May sits on the agency.
Connors admitted he doesn't expect that bill to become law because the Governor nominates the person who makes the appointments to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
Connors said he is hoping that attention drawn to the issue through the creation of the bill will eliminate the need for the measure.
Connors also said Van Drew supports a bill he's sponsoring that addresses New Jersey's heroin epidemic by going after those who are distributing the drug on the streets. It would characterize drug offenses by changing the classification of the weight of the drug to units instead of grams or ounces. He expects the bill to come up in January, when the new session of the Legislature convenes.