It seems as though Middletown's appointed Republican mayor Gerry Scharfenberger has a rather novel, but highly unoriginal idea to help unburden tax payers by asking his good friend, Governor Christie, to increase the State’s sales tax by some unnamed percentage and use the money to offset property taxes, using the revenue from the sales tax increase to pay for school funding. He thinks that it is such a good idea that he recently instructed the Township Attorney to draft a resolution that would call upon the Governor and the State Legislature to consider his idea to solve the school funding issue.
He has been quoted as saying that “Everybody sort of commiserates, (and thinks) this could be a great thing...It’s something that’s got to come, because we can’t just keep burdening taxpayers.”
Wow, Scharfenberger has become a liberal Progressive overnight? I would be impressed if this was his idea, but as I mentioned it wasn’t an original idea on his part, similar proposals have been made by others in the past, most recently by the progressive think tank, New Jersey Policy Perspective, which addressed this very issue in its Monday Minute newsletter back on March 8, 2010, while the Governor was in the middle of his battle with teachers and their union over a wage and benefit freeze prior to school board elections.
If Scharfenberger had proposed this idea earlier in the year, before he joined the governor in his attacks against the teachers of Middletown’s school system and their union, blaming them for driving the local tax rate up through the stratosphere, I very well may have given him kudos for think outside the box (even though he gave no details or guidance on how the State should allocate or disperse funds to local municipalities once it was gathered by the State).
Unfortunately that is not the case.
This latest headline grabbing scheme by the mayor however, seems to be more driven by his intention to deflect criticism away from his personal record of raising local taxes. Since Gerry Scharfenberger joined the Middletown Township Committee, the local municipal tax rate will have risen by 41.9% over the 5 year period in which he has served on the Township Committee (3 of those years as Mayor, 2 as Deputy Mayor) if the currently proposed Township budget, which includes a 13.87% tax increase, is adopted by the first Township Committee meeting of September, which seems unlikely at this point due to the cancellation of the town’s hearing in front of the Local Finance Board on August 11th, which was to decide if Middletown could exceed the 4% state mandated cap on spending.
The mayor must figure that if he can raise the evil specter of the Middletown Board of Education and the perceived wasteful spending of tax dollars that are being paid to those that educated the Township’s children by pointing out once again, that ~60% of local tax bills go to support the education system, people will forget his tax and spend record, if only somehow, those in Trenton could take care of educating Middletown's kids so that residents can forget about the municipal portion of their tax bills.
Based on past performance and record of the legislature, it sounds unrealistic to think that those in charge of Trenton can be trusted with the revenue raised by a sales tax increase. After all, look at what happen to the money that was raise the last time the sales tax was raised a couple of years ago, the tax was raised from 6% to 7% and half of that increase was to fund property tax relief through homestead rebates, which have now been eliminated by Governor Christie.
It is evident from comments left on my MiddletownMike blog and the 100 that were left at the Redbankgreen.com website after first reporting Scharfenberger’s idea, that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Here are just a few:
“So instead of finding a way to lower operating costs and reduce budgets, the mayor seeks out a way to shift the burden to someone else. Great job.” - Tom S. - Redbankgreen.com
“Let me guess- the town council will support this inane, meaningless resolution 4-1. He’d rather see sales tax increase to something like 15% so that every NJ resident will go out of state or online to shop, which in turn will hurt NJ businesses? Well thought out.” - Midletown4eva – Redbankgreen.com
“Middletown will the laughing stock of this state. No fiscal responsibility for the last 6 years and he wants to pass the burden onto everyone else. Great example of leadership. This guy ceases to amaze me!” – John D – Redbankgreen.com
“Gerard Scharfenberger is totally out of touch with reality .His excuses only reflect just how at fault he is and it's about time he accepts responsibility for his mismanagement. He was mayor 3 of the last 5 five years and he has been a disgrace as far as representing the "people" of this town.... ALL of the people !! His sole purpose has been republican politics. Can't wait to bid GOOD RIDDANCE to this inadequacy !!” - Anonymous – MiddletownMike blog
Instead of focusing on ways to raise everyone’s taxes and divert attention away from his abominable tax and spend record in this time of economic turmoil, Gerry Scharfenberger and those in the majority of the Township Committee need to figure out a way to decrease the proposed 13.87% tax increase that he supports, by cutting spending rather than relying on others to do it for them or writing resolutions that fall within the jurisdiction of the State Legislature.