The state Senate today passed a bill forcing the Christie administration to restore property tax information that it removed from a state websitelast year.
The Senate voted 32-2 on the Assembly version of a bill (A3223) that was passed in that lower chamber last year that requires the administration to publish the town-by-town average residential property tax bill, the average homestead credit payment and the net average property tax bill after the credit is applied.
That information was posted on the Department of Community Affairs website until last spring, when it axed columns listing average homestead rebates and average net property taxes from its tax tables.
"This is really about promoting a higher level of transparency," said Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), a bill sponsor, calling the removal of the information "troubling."
NJ Spotlight has reported that the administration removed that data from the 2008 to 2012 tax tables after it published a report saying net property taxes rose more in Christie's first term than under former Gov. Jon Corzine.
Those results undermined Christie's claims that his cap on some local property taxes has slowed the rate of property tax growth.
The Treasury Department has challenged the site's methodology and conclusions. And comparing the two administrations' records on property taxes without factoring in Homestead credits supports Christie's claims.
State Sens. Samuel Thompson (R-Middlesex) and Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) have argued that including the average homestead and net property tax data promotes misleading math.
For example, if a municipality's average property tax bill is $10,000, and just one resident is eligible for the credit and receives $2,000, the data would give the impression that the net property tax burden for that town is $8,000, Thompson said.
It is not a true average, Beck has said, adding that the state should also post the number of homeowners in each town who participated in the program.
New Jersey's average property tax bill rose to $8,161 in 2014 from $7,988 in 2013. Christie has repeatedly suspended or delayed the Homestead program.
The state is expected to make a Homestead payment this spring on rebates homeowners were expecting last summer. Christie delayed the payment to cope with a massive budget shortfall, saying that "when you're running out of money, you've got to manage your cash carefully. You've got to prioritize your bills and decide which ones you absolutely must pay."