FOR 190 YEARS, New Jersey had no income tax and no sales tax. As recently as 1966, it had only the third-highest property taxes in the nation.
Through home rule, local governments delivered efficient and inexpensive services. New Jersey's small towns powered the state to become an economic powerhouse, capable of turning on a dime to meet economic challenges as local governments capitalized on geographic strengths.
One of three states in 1966 with no sales or income tax, New Jersey boasted the strongest economy in the country. This was the place to live to start a business, raise a family and prosper. That is until the left marched in to make New Jersey progressive.
Like the other isms — socialism, communism, Marxism — progressivism is more than a doctrinaire approach to government: It is a religion that worships the common good while sacrificing individual liberty and prosperity.
The seeds for liberal change were planted in the 1950s when teachers unions began promoting a broader base of taxes to fund education. Even farmers were told they would benefit from broad-based taxes, never realizing this funding source would finance the most anti-business bureaucracy the farm industry would ever encounter — the Department of Environmental Protection.
Local officials trusted these new taxes would provide tax relief, never anticipating radical Council on Affordable Housing regulations that would force tens of thousands of taxpayer-subsidized low-income housing units into every municipality in the state or the never-ending flow of unfunded state mandates from Trenton's growing bureaucracy.
The progress to high taxes continued into the 1960s when on April 24, 1966, the Legislature passed a 3 percent "temporary" sales tax. Legislators claimed the tax would go away after four years. It did go away — it progressed to a permanent 5 percent tax.
On April 24, 1966, hundreds of suburban school students filled the State House wearing campaign buttons reading "Better Education through Taxation." This propaganda proved false. The 3 percent sales tax has grown to 7 percent. And New Jersey's property taxes, once the third-highest in the country, are now No. 1.
But like a drug addict needing another fix, Trenton's greedy progressives were hungry for more. In 1976, they told voters an income tax would "end the property tax crisis." That tax was passed with a top rate of 2.5 percent. Under former Gov. James Florio, the top rate would progress to 7 percent; under former Gov. James E. McGreevey, it would become 8.97 percent.
Today, we have the nation's worst income tax. We're tied for the highest state sales tax and have progressed to the highest property taxes in the nation. What happened to "Better Education through Taxation?"
Students in the Abbott districts, the most expensive school districts in the country, continue to receive a mediocre education as the teachers union uses faulty Special Review Assessment tests to conjure up phony graduation rates. Suburban property owners pay the highest taxes in the country and through the sales and income tax are paying property taxes for the Abbott districts as well.
Trenton's central government, the spawn of the progressive central planners gorging on broad-based taxes, has an insatiable appetite. The burden progressives have placed on taxpayers has taken New Jersey from the nation's greatest economy to one in decline.
The time is now to end the phony "progress" that is sapping our prosperity. It is time to dismantle Trenton's destructive bureaucracy and return New Jersey to its former grandeur — a destination state for those seeking opportunity, not entitlements, a magnet state for job producers, not welfare recipients and free from the manipulation of social engineers, the progressive ideologues who would manipulate every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave.
These abstract metaphysicians have had their way with us, taking us down a road to fiscal disaster and economic decline. New Jersey is fortunate. The problems we face were not brought upon us by a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. We are not engaged in a war like Iraq, nor are we suffering from an economic collapse outside our control. The problem is traced to one cause: the doctrine of progressivism. Trenton's central planners have wrought havoc on our once-prosperous state.
It's time to return to a system of home rule, individual opportunity and responsibility and its consequence — true prosperity.
Steve Lonegan was Mayor of Bogota, NJ, and is Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. He is a prolific writer, having been published in newspapers and blogs. He just published a book, Putting Taxpayers First: A Blueprint for Victory in the Garden State, that discusses the impact of the Trenton government on the well being of the taxpayers of the state. He offers solid and workable solutions. Learn more at lonegan.com.