How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Trenton gets little for supporting New Jersey government

Trenton, New Jersey’s state Capital, faces the same core issues that many older northeast cities are grappling with – aging dilapidated infrastructure i.e., crumbling roads, bridges, sewers and water systems; poorly performing schools; high crime; a lack of affordable housing; and a dearth of employment opportunities.

In addition, Trenton has a unique problem – more than 50% of its land is tax-exempt and owned and occupied by state and county government, institutions of higher education, hospitals, churches, and dozens of properties owned by charities. Of Trenton’s 7.2 square miles, 28% of the land is composed of state offices and parking lots. The 20+ state buildings and acres of parking are exempt from city taxes. They are provided with police, fire and emergency services but don’t pay their “fair share” for them. Thousand upon thousand of state worker cars enter and leave Trenton each weekday, polluting the city’s air, destroying its roads and clogging its streets.

For decades under Republicans and Democrats, Trenton has been treated like a second-class citizen by the state. Trenton’s mayor after mayor have gone with tin cup in hand and begged the Governor to provide payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) to make up for the cost of services provided to state government and for the loss of income resulting from the glut of tax-exempt State properties in the city. It is interesting to point out that at the federal level, states are provided with federal funds to offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal land located in their boundaries.

Prior to Governor Christie’s tenure, Trenton received “Capital City Aid” that didn’t completely pay for all of the services provided to the state at no cost, but helped. These funds are no longer provided (Trenton’s state aid went down by $25 million during Chris Christie’s two terms). Instead, Mayor Gusciora is hoping to receive $9 million of transitional aid (under bill A-4350), which is way below the cost of services the city provides to the state. This is the reason that Trenton’s tax rate on an equalized basis is extraordinarily high.

Trenton’s fiscal problems are compounded by a dearth of the kind of assets that have sparked the rebirth in other twenty-first-century company towns – Eds and Meds. Trenton, unlike New Brunswick and Newark, does not have a major four-year college campus or major medical campus located within its confines, to spark and foster redevelopment. Students, parents and patient’s families can be the lifeblood of economic development for neighborhoods adjacent to educational and medical campuses.

There is very little likelihood, given the lack of political clot Mercer County yields in statewide New Jersey politics, that the Governor or Legislature will out of the goodness of their heart increase Trenton’s PILT. This is in spite of the fact that Governor Murphy, with much fanfare in September, issued a flowery detailed Executive Order creating the NJ State Capital Partnership to Help Aid Trenton’s Revitalization.

Nothing of real substance has happened since the September Executive Order to suggest that the Murphy administration is prepared to do what State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said in a Governor’s Office news release at the time of the issuance of the Executive Order “As both the largest landowner and employer in the city, the State of New Jersey has a financial obligation to serve as an active partner in Trenton’s revitalization and a moral obligation to serve as a good ‘corporate’ neighbor.”

In spite of lack of action to date by the Murphy Administration on behalf of Trenton, the Gusciora Administration should make its case to the state for PILT by providing a detailed analysis of the cost of the services that Trenton provides to the state. If the state continues to be unmoved, an old-fashion march on our State Capital, designed to bring attention to the inequitable way that Trenton is treated by state government, should be considered. In politics, the squeaky wheel often gets the grease.

One of Trenton’s real strength is the city’s extraordinary network of vibrant religious institutions and a wide range of charities. There are tens of thousands of Mercer County residents who are parishioners at Trenton churches and volunteers at Trenton charities. Thousands of volunteers from Mercer County’s suburban communities support Trenton charities. I have no doubt that many of these folks would join with Trentonians on a March on the State Capital in support of increasing state aid to Trenton. Hopefully, the members of the Trenton City Council would stop squabbling with the Mayor and also get behind such a march.

The message of the march should be that “Trenton played a pivotal role in the formation of our state and nation and yet for years it has not received the rightful level of support and attention it deserves.” That is what Governor Murphy said when he issued his so far meaningless Executive Order that was supposed to “help chart a new course for New Jersey’s capital city.”