Since I was critical of the New Jersey press corps in my recent essay on asset monetization for focusing too heavily on the politics of the issue instead of the substance, it’s only fair that I point out when they do a good job too. Case in point: Joe Donohue’s Star-Ledger story on the trials and tribulations Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell endured in attempting to push through a similar plan in Pennsylvania.
I’m a little troubled by the Courier Post story on the farmland assessment tax break Vernon Hill is receiving on his property in Moorestown.
The headline proclaims Hill’s farm assessment cuts tax bill by $60,000 and the first three paragraphs tell us that Hill owns the largest residence in New Jersey and only pays $295.98 per year in property taxes on the land around his six-bedroom, 10-bath home. In the fourth paragraph, we have an angry quote from a local homeowner: “It doesn’t seem fair. He probably has people who can find all the little loopholes that ordinary people can’t find.” Next we learn that the farmland assessment saves Hill about $60,000 a year.
Clearly, the impression from the headline and the first few paragraphs of the story is that Hill, a man with more money than most of us, is paying a few hundred dollars in property taxes when he should be forking over about $60,000.
Not until the sixth paragraph of the story (a point many readers never reach) are we informed that Hill actually pays more than $270,000 in property taxes each year. That’s what he owes on the property on which his home sits. The tax break is for the land around his home.
Yes, he is getting a tax break, but it’s substantially less than the story implies. And those who do keep reading – all the way to paragraph 15 – will eventually learn that Hill’s tax break is perfectly legal in New Jersey.
Should a man of his means be receiving a tax break because he meets the state’s requirements by selling a few cords of wood? No, the law clearly needs to be amended. But that’s a job for lawmakers in Trenton. Vernon Hill is not the villain here.