State Sen. Paul Sarlo, who last year was subpoenaed during a federal probe of “Christmas tree” items, today called for an investigation of the tax status of the farm where U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s brother grows actual Christmas trees.
Garrett (R-Wantage) lives on a large estate in Wantage that is mostly classified as farmland – earning Garrett a large property tax break. The campaign of Democratic rival Dennis Shulman has been mocking that classification for weeks and using it in television advertisements.
Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said that Garrett told the state that his farm produced more than $520 in revenue in order to get the tax break, but he didn’t report any farm income on his federal financial disclosures. Garrett has defended the charge by saying the income goes to his brother.
"Ordinary taxpayers know they can't play a 'get out of taxes free' card with their local assessor, and they have a right to be confident that their elected representative is no different,” said Sarlo, who’s also the mayor of Wood-Ridge. “We need to make sure that the Wantage Township Tax Assessor is complying with the law, can justify her decision to give Scott Garrett this enormous tax break, and is not giving Garrett special treatment because he is a Congressman."
Sarlo is a strange choice for an attack dog on this issue. He’s from southern Bergen County, and none of the towns he represents in the legislature fall into Garrett’s legislative district, which covers the northern part of Bergen, part of Passaic and all of Sussex and Warren.
And while Sarlo has never been charged with a crime, he’s a close political ally of indicted Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero, and had records subpoenaed last year by the FBI in its investigation into “Christmas tree” budget items, which ultimately led to the indictment of former State Sen. Joe Coniglio in neighboring District 38.
Garrett’s campaign took the opportunity to point to Sarlo’s earlier support of the ill-fated EnCap project in his part of the county, saying that Sarlo was “at the center of a federal investigation” of the project.
Garrett spokeswoman Amanda Gasperino called the attack “slanderous lies” and said that Shulman is dragging an innocent tax assessor into the campaign. She also criticized Shulman for not being specific enough about how he would ease the tax burden on the district.
“By enlisting third-party surrogates like Paul Sarlo, it is increasingly evident that Shulman has no opinions of his own and is merely a blank slate for a dangerous ideology mirroring that of the far left-wing establishment. His resounding support from questionable figures like Paul Sarlo, Joe Ferriero and Charlie Rangel should alert voters to his unabashed extremism and serve as a preview of how Shulman would sprint to Washington liberals, not the people of the 5th District, for direction and advice,” she said. “It’s time that voters get a straight answer to the question: In the fight to protect New Jersey taxpayers, where is Dennis Shulman?”
Shulman Campaign Manager Jeff Hauser responded by digging up a quote from a direct mail piece State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) sent out about Garrett during his primary run against him in 2002.
"If Scott Garrett ignores Senator Sarlo like he ignores New Jersey tax law and federal ethics requirements, perhaps he will explain why Senator Gerald Cardinale has previously pointed out that, `Garrett is no farmer. He is a lawyer who is gaming the system..'” said Hauser. “We don't care whose skepticism about his tax shenanigans Garrett takes seriously, we only care about Garrett releasing all tax records relating to his property, opening the property up for inspection, and explaining the many still unanswered questions about his personal integrity."