Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It is the state's fault


Well, we weren’t too far off in our estimation of Doug Palmer’s speech regarding the governor’s proposed elimination of all aid to the city of Trenton. (Surprisingly, there were no shout outs to departing Acting Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez and no blame laid at the feet of the opponents to the Trenton Water Works split and sale).

In a rather tired and repetitive speech before a packed city council chamber, Palmer pointed the finger squarely at the Capitol and the state’s alleged refusal to pay a fair share. He railed against the states refusal to allow development on the surface parking lots that surround some of the state buildings downtown.

In short, last night was an attempt at a Tent Revival-type meeting aimed at firing up the public’s passionate indignation at the Governor putting his foot down and refusing to fund the city’s spendthrift ways.

By and large, the attempt failed.

Palmer was unable to stir much emotion from the assembled crowd as he read through his prepared remarks.

We’ve heard it all before and I think all but the most die-hard Palmer supporters are tired of the twisted logic and half-truths.

Let’s remember that the parking lots around the Hughes Justice Complex are actually owned by the Trenton Parking Authority (TPA). The state has a 40 year lease with the TPA for those spots that brought nearly $1.3 million in revenue last year.

And then there is Palmer’s estimate that the state would owe $155 million in taxes if they paid the same assessment as other property owners.

Dan Dodson, who has formed a citizen’s group to look at AND FIX the city’s budget has come up with the following counter argument:

Mayor Palmer claims that the State should be paying us $155M if they were taxed at our rate (~let’s say 3% effective). That would equate to a valuation of state property of roughly $4.5B.
However, DCA estimates all public property in Trenton which includes State, City and Federal buildings (but doesn’t include schools and the arenas) at $1.4B. Based on this number and some analysis by Trenton Downtown Associationi and my own guesstimate, I’d say the State valuation is more like $1.2B. With that valuation in mind, the State would owe more like $36M/year in PILOT.
Trenton’s actual ratable value is $2.1B (the number our property taxes are based on).
A disagreement about this basic fact would lead to two radically different positions:

  • If the Mayor is right, then the State is a deadbeat like he said.

  • If my calculations are right, then we’ve been receiving aid for a long time because the State currently funds us to the tune of $340M ($250M for schools and $90 for municipal aid).

In the coming days there will no doubt be more revelations on the topic of state funding. What we do know is that Doug Palmer failed in his effort to incite the crowd at last night’s meeting. It was, by most accounts, a waste of time.

Let’s hope that the Fix Trenton’s Budget group can provide some clearheaded thinking that can be brought to the table during negotiations with the state.


Anonymous said...

Great review. It was a complete waste of time, unless it served to remind us of our failed leadership as we consider who to vote for in May.

Old Mill Hill said...

Thank you.

As for voting in May, we must emphatically point out that those who have served as elected or appointed officials these past eight or more years must be held at partially accountable for the mess the city is in.

As responsible parties they DO NOT deserve consideration for election to higher office.