The morning after the City Council approved an 18 percent property-tax increase for New York’s homeowners, I jumped into my car, raced down the New Jersey Turnpike, and positioned myself in the westbound lanes of the Goethals Bridge.
I was on a mission of mercy.
Various journals, periodicals and newspapers have been warning us for weeks that convoys of moving vans bound for points west and north would follow any successful attempt to raise taxes in the city. Faced with a fiscal crisis that conjures unpleasant memories of an unpleasant time, the 1970′s, Mayor Bloomberg has spent the last few months preparing New Yorkers for a round of tax hikes, inspiring hoots and howls from the low-tax chorus. Tax increases, they said, would drive the middle class out of the city, would stifle entrepreneuers, and would be a rotten way to treat rich people.
Despite these dire comments, the Council-that scheming band of Marxist redistributionists-went along with the Mayor’s property-taxhike.Well, sortof.TheCouncil trimmed the increase from the Mayor’s proposed 25 percent to a more managable 18 percent, and it negotiated away some of the more unpalatable service cuts. This, of course, allows Council members to go back to the neighborhood and boast of how hard they fought for the rights of children and working people and families and household pets and cute inanimate objects, etc.
Well, however heroic the Council members may have been on this issue, they have nothing on me, let me tell you. Because on a windy, chilly morning in late November, I was standing on narrow asphalt roadway high above the Arthur Kill, which divides Staten Island from the New Jersey suburbs. Armed with leaflets and news stories about property-tax unrest in New Jersey and a copy of my own property-tax bill (7,000 bucks a year on a house worth a little more than $200,000), I set up an informational checkpoint to save those panic-striken New York City property owners from crossing the Goethals Bridge and committing economic suicide. Did they know, I wondered, that they’d be paying triple or more what they pay in the city, and that in New Jersey property taxes go up every year as a matter of course? Of course they didn’t. Nobody mentioned that.
As I don’t have a sinecure with an anti-tax think tank, perhaps I don’t truly understand the ultra-competitive, ruggedly individualistic world of free-market economics. But it seems to me that if you’re going to flee your home because your wasteful, inefficient, corrupt and semi-socialist city government increases your property tax by 18 percent, well, you don’t want to move to a place where property taxes are even higher.
So that’s why I was shivering on the Goethals Bridge the other morning. I wanted to make sure those middle-class homeowners in their moving vans with banners reading “Low Taxes or Bust!” understood that they hadn’t yet begun to pay.
I have to confess that business was not nearly as brisk as I had been led to believe. In fact, hours went by before I encountered my first moving van. And, lo and behold, the van was bound for Essex County, N.J., where I live. The tax-ravaged householders were following the van in their patriotic, American-made S.U.V. They pulled over, no doubt after reading my hand-lettered sign containing a simple, elegant phrase: “What kind of idiot are you?”
I didn’t really say much. I handed the newspaper stories about a property-tax revolt underway in the town of Millburn in Essex County. Taxpayers there got hit with increases the size of a veteran firefighter’s annual salary: One homeowner’s tax hike was $51,000, another’s was just a few thousand less. Millburn has decided it wants to secede from Essex County and become part of Morris County, where, homeowners are led to believe, their taxes will be lower. (Pause here for knowing guffaw.)
The middle-class homeowners on the bridge were stunned to learn that their property taxes actually are low compared with the rest of the region.
“But I read in the newspaper that we live in a high-tax city where vermin steal money from taxpayers to support their filthy, antisocial habits,” said one of the would-be refugees. “And I read that this 18 percent increase will only wind up in the pockets of left-wing bureaucrats who have never done a day’s work in their lives, and who, in fact, are working to destroy the hard-working middle class and their children and their pets and their cute inanimate objects.”
Sadly, I shook my head, raised my arm, and pointed back to the overbuilt hills of Staten Island.
“Go back where you came from,” I said.
And they did. And that’s how I saved New Yorkers from higher taxes.