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By Bill Wichert March 19, 2012

Chris Christie cut $1 billion in rebates, leading to 20 percent property tax hikes, assemblyman says

New Jersey taxpayers are paying 20 percent more in property taxes, thanks to a $1 billion cut in rebates from Gov. Chris Christie, according to state Assemblyman John McKeon.

In a March 4 interview on My9 News’ "New Jersey Now," the Essex County Democrat claimed "the governor took away a billion dollars of rebates, so in real dollars, our property taxes have gone up 20 percent."

PolitiFact New Jersey found a couple of problems with McKeon’s statement.

Instead of $1 billion, Christie has reduced Homestead rebates by about $660 million since signing the fiscal year 2011 budget, his first spending plan as governor.

That reduction in rebates coincided with a 20 percent property tax increase, but a state official disputed that figure, pointing out that rebates did not directly lower property tax bills in the past.

First, let’s talk about the Homestead property tax credits.

In fiscal year 2011, Christie cut funding for Homestead rebates by $850.4 million. But in fiscal year 2012, Christie increased funding by $189.8 million.

So, during Christie’s tenure, there has been a net decrease of about $660.6 million in Homestead rebates.

But McKeon argued that the governor cut rebates by about $1.5 billion. In addition to the $850 million cut in Christie’s first budget, the funding level in his second budget represented a "$683 million cut" from fiscal year 2010, according to McKeon.

We told McKeon he was double-counting the governor’s cut in fiscal year 2011, but he maintained that his statement is "absolutely true."

"Said in plain language, had Gov Christie funded rebates at the same level as the (level) in the final year before he took office, New Jersey taxpayers would have had $1.533 Billion dollars more in their pockets," McKeon told us in an e-mail.

Now, let’s talk about that property tax increase.

According to the state Department of Community Affairs, the average Homestead rebate was $1,037 in 2009 and $240 in 2011.

After deducting the average Homestead rebates, the bill for "average net property taxes" was $6,244 in 2009 and $7,519 in 2011, according to the DCA. That’s a 20.4 percent increase in property taxes between 2009 and 2011.

But the 2009 figure is misleading, DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said in an e-mail.

Starting with the Christie administration, homeowners receive the rebates as credits on their property tax bills. But previously, the rebates were paid out in the form of checks and not applied directly to property tax bills, Ryan told us.

In other words, although those checks were meant as property tax relief, that doesn’t mean homeowners used them to pay their property tax bills, according to Ryan.

"An eligible homeowners’ property tax bill in 2009 – the actual bill – was not lowered because he/she received a rebate check in the mail," Ryan said.

The heading of "average net property taxes" is "leftover from previous administrations that wanted to claim property tax rebates lowered property taxes when they did not," said Ryan, adding that state officials dispute that property taxes went up by 20 percent.

McKeon rejected the department’s argument: "For us to even entertain an argument by the DCA controlled by the Governor that rebates not transmitted by credit shouldn't be counted doesn't even meet the laugh test."

Our ruling

In a TV interview, McKeon claimed "the governor took away a billion dollars of rebates, so in real dollars, our property taxes have gone up 20 percent."

But Christie cut about $660 million in Homestead rebates. Following the reduction in rebates, the average net property tax bill went up by about 20 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to data from the state Department of Community Affairs.

A DCA spokeswoman claimed the tax hike is inaccurate, because Homestead rebates were not used in previous years to directly lower property tax bills. Still, no matter how the rebates were distributed, their purpose always has been property tax relief.

We rate the statement Half True.

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To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.

Our Sources

New Jersey Now, Interview with state Assemblyman John McKeon, March 4, 2012

New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Citizens’ Guide to the Budget: Fiscal Year 2010, September 2009

New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Citizens’ Guide to the Budget: Fiscal Year 2011, September 2010

New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Citizens’ Guide to the Budget: Fiscal Year 2012, October 2011

NJ Spotlight, Net Property Taxes Up 20 Percent Under Christie, Jan. 30, 2012

New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Property Tax Information for 2011, accessed March 7, 2012

New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Property Tax Information for 2009, accessed March 7, 2012

New Jersey Department of the Treasury, Homestead Benefits: Frequently Asked Questions, accessed March 7, 2012

New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, Analysis of the Fiscal Year 2010-11 Budget: Department of the Treasury, April 2010

Phone and email interviews with Assemblyman John McKeon, March 8 and 12-13, 2012

Email interview with Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, March 8-9 and 12, 2012

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Chris Christie cut $1 billion in rebates, leading to 20 percent property tax hikes, assemblyman says

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