From the Star Ledger:
A Senate panel has approved a bill to make it tougher for property owners to qualify for large property tax discounts if they use their land for farming.
Under the bill (S589), sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), those who claim a farmland tax exemption would have to sell at least $1,000 worth of products from five acres of land – up from $500.
The Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved the measure 4-0.
New Jersey’s farmland tax exemption is intended to preserve open space and keep farmers in state. But it’s been controversial for decades. Environmentalists say real estate developers claim it for land they plan to develop later, and wealthy residents — including several high profile politicians — sometimes use it to pay lower taxes on their estates.
“There is nothing that really guides our tax assessors as to what is and isn’t a farm. So the result has been that we have a lot of fake farmers,” said Beck.
The state senator Beck defeated in 2007, Ellen Karcher (D-Monmouth), had some of her Marlboro property classified as a farm, saving her tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes because she sold about half a dozen Christmas trees.
Former Gov. Christie Whitman reduced taxes on her two estates by selling cords of firewood to relatives and friends. U.S. Reps. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.) and Jon Runyan (R-3rd Dist.) have also faced
criticism from political opponents for using the program.
Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel opposed the bill because he did not think it went far enough.
“When land speculators and big corporations use farmland assessment to get around paying taxes, we have to make up the differences,” he said.
Added Tittel: “Raising it from $500 to $1,000 is 10 extra Christmas trees at someone’s house in Manalapan.”