New Jersey residents may reject a greater percentage of school budgets than last year when they go to the polls today amid dissatisfaction with rising property taxes that are already the nation’s highest.
Schools represent the largest portion of the real-estate tax bill in New Jersey, where the average levy exceeded $7,000 last year from about $4,100 a decade ago. Citizens in more than 90 percent of the state’s 603 districts have the chance to vote on schools’ annual spending plans.
A year ago, 74 percent of school budgets were approved in an election that drew 14 percent of voters. The last time fewer than half of spending plans passed was 1976. The threat of higher taxes may draw more people to the ballot box to vote “no” in a year when residents are already coping with rising unemployment and foreclosures, plunging stock values and a state budget that proposes other tax increases.
“The school districts are aware of the financial conditions out there,” said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “We’re going to have a drop off of approvals from last year, but a majority should pass.”
Most of New Jersey’s school districts must have budgets approved by voters every April. Planned spending this year is largely flat or anticipates a less than 4 percent increase, because educators understand that voters’ personal finances have deteriorated, Belluscio said.
“If there’s going to be a year when we’re going to see a major number of them rejected, I would expect it to be this year,” said Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax group. “New Jersey is a state that has been majorly impacted by the fiscal downturn.”