I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's All in the Framing

The message is the frame. Take this editorial in today's Star-Ledger:
Officials in Princeton Borough are looking hungrily at their world-famous namesake university with all the subtlety of the big bad wolf eyeing Little Red Riding Hood. And with reason. Princeton University has a very impressive basket under its Ivy League cloak: A $12.6 billion endowment, fourth biggest in the country behind Harvard, Yale and Stanford.
As a nonprofit institution, the university gets a pass on most property taxes that could otherwise run to tens of millions of dollars....
....Some local officials are insisting that Princeton pony up the equivalent of the taxes they are exempt from paying to the borough, surrounding towns and Mercer County — an additional $28 million by one borough councilman’s estimate. But unless we want to rewrite the entire tax code and demolish the concept of tax-exempt status for universities, that’s a non-starter.
Well, rewriting the entire tax code doesn't seem like such a bad idea - starting with letting towns determine if they want to use other sources of revenue to fund their expenses.

Suppose Princeton had a local sales tax. All of the students and staff on campus who use the borough's infrastructure would then be able to contribute to paying for it. Most likely not enough to offset $28 million, but add in some hotel taxes and it would be a good start.

The frame that keeps getting presented in this debate is that towns and schools are stuck with the property tax as the primary way to fund themselves. But why? Why aren't we considering moving away from them?

More framing - here's today's NY Times:
The map of New Jersey is sliced into more than 1,100 municipalities and school districts, many of them tiny. The cherished principle of local control, and the abundance of local governments, lie at the core of the state’s political culture. 
But they are also central to the backlash over high taxes. Voter ire may be directed toward Trenton, but New Jersey residents pay far more in local taxes than they do in state taxes.
Is this really the districts' and towns' fault? Is "local control" cherished? If it is, why aren't towns and schools allowed to decide how they want to tax themselves?
“The governor is really imposing state control over local government beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said Ben Dworkin...
I would argue there has already been a huge imposition of state control. When the state abdicates its responsibility to fund municipal and school services, and then tells towns and districts how they have to raise funds, that's not local control.

And then we have this:
For years, academic experts and some politicians have said that the number of local governments is partly to blame for New Jersey’s high taxes — a claim that local officials often dispute.
Say it with me:

31st out of 50 in state and local taxes.

I guess it's more than framing - it's also about facts.

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