The Case Against State Funding for Trenton

Trenton’s new government isn’t even sworn in yet and they’re already salivating at the prospect of fellow Democrat Phil Murphy funding some sort of big aid package for the City of Trenton.

My question is, why should taxpayers in New Jersey want this?

It’s settled precedent that cities can’t levy property taxes on State, County or Federal governments.  Why do Trentonians think they are different? If so, what’s the formula?

Perhaps we think it’s because we’re a Capital City and therefore entitled to a little extra something because we house so many State buildings.    Of course, legally we’re NOT entitled to a dime.

Many, in and out of Trenton government, think the State should agree to a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) out of the goodness of the collective hearts of all New Jersey tax payers.  If it did, New Jersey would likely be the only state in the nation that made such payments.  Most other states do not have formulaic mechanisms for PILOTs on State buildings but a few do including New York and Delaware*)

The State controls 28% of the land in Trenton.  Why can’t we run a successful city on the other 72%?

Perhaps we think it’s because we’re poor. Well sure, Trenton can’t possibly fund its own government.  However, just for background, out of the ~$500,000,000 local cost of government (municipal + schools), Trenton taxpayers pay around $90,000,000 in property taxes (municipal + school).  That’s less than 20%.

The state funds roughly 50% of Trenton’s total cost of government vs. the 20% that Trentonian’s pay in property taxes.   How much more do the fine folks in Trenton think NJ taxpayers owe them?

Perhaps we think it’s because Trentonians are all Democrats and payment will ensure fealty to the NJ Democratic party.   In the absence of a good rationale, this seems most likely.   Trentonians complained mightily when Gov. Christies tried to make performance criteria a condition of receiving aid.   Imagine that, a Republican suggested that Trenton have a responsible plan for revitalization and the people revolted.   Perhaps it’s good that Trenton is expunging Republicans from the city.   Who knows, maybe they’d help lead a statewide Republican resurgence that would force Trenton to be responsible.

There are some valid funds that do flow through the State’s treasury and that have been woefully underpaid in the past.  I’m thinking, of course, about CMPTRA  and Energy Receipts.  Both are essentially business taxes that are collected by the state and owed to cities.  The numbers are big, measured in the tens of millions of dollars.  The State of New Jersey stole millions from Trenton by not paying out correct amounts while previous Mayors were asleep at the wheel.   That’s a problem, but these funds aren’t aid, they’re taxes.

All of this leads to a fundamental reason why our new Mayor wants to bring partisan politics to his government.   Republicans would demand that Trenton be accountable for its future success and not be dependent on New Jersey taxpayers.  Self-reliance is a Republican ideal not just for people but also for local government.   For Trenton to not have a plan and timetable in which to become a normal city confirms that the city will never become self-reliant.  Never!

State funding for Trenton should end eventually.  If the City can’t show a plan for investing State aid in a way that will lead to self-sufficiency, the funding should stop now.

* Thanks to Iana Dikidjieva for correct the article in her Facebook comments.  Correct is always better.

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