From the Courier News:
To explain something as complicated as the statewide property tax crisis, George Hawkins needs a whiteboard.
Hawkins is the executive director of New Jersey Future, a research and advocacy group that studies the state’s development problems and possible solutions. Recently, he made a presentation for an editorial board meeting at the Courier News, in which he explained the mission of his organization: to help individuals and municipalities cope with the burden of dense development, rising property taxes, growing school populations, traffic and other problems, by raising awareness about smart growth.
Somewhere in his doodle of New Jersey, cris-crossed with highways and strip malls, Hawkins made room for more mass transit-oriented development as a long-term solution to the hefty tax bills many residents now face. Tax reform and environmental health are part of a holistic process, and in a state as crowded as New Jersey, transit-oriented land use is a big part of that process, he said.
“I believe my generation’s view of this kind of development is changing,” he said, citing the many potential long-term benefits of transit villages: lower property taxes, more manageable development and land use, a balanced job market, more affordable housing and numerous other solutions to statewide problems resulting from overdevelopment and sprawl.
In his pitch, Hawkins explains the complex cycle of fiscal imbalance that leads to “the ratables chase” — residential development does not pay for itself — that is, the cost of local government, services and schooling generally exceeds the revenue generated in property taxes. Thus, municipalities have an incentive to court nonresidential development — shopping centers, office parks and hotels — and discourage residential development.
These major commercial projects go to the lowest bidder, sometimes with little consideration of how the development will affect the surrounding area. This kind of development can suck people and resources out of town and city centers and divert them into a sprawling pattern, Hawkins said.
Because school funding can be the largest component of local spending, municipalities may be forced to encourage housing for seniors and singles, and zone for revenue-producing luxury houses on large, expensive lots, all to resist building housing for families.
The cumulative result of all this is a statewide housing shortage, with lots of development that may have unintended consequences from traffic to increased pollution, Hawkins said.