Friday, May 8, 2015

Zoning and Government School Taxes

As is usually the case when government coercively interferes in private affairs—i.e., violates someone’s individual rights—controls lead to unforeseen (by the statists) problems, which leads to more controls to alleviate the problems caused by the original controls. I’ve been writing about New Jersey’s “Affordable housing” battles, which pits local communities that want to zone  out low and moderate cost housing development against the state that wants more “affordable housing” built.

Now, consider one of the main reasons local communities want to zone out low and moderate income housing. New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, in a question and answer followup to his article Chris Christie's the cat who ate the COAH canary, points to the issue:

Q. I don't get it. The courts say farmland in one town has to be jammed with housing while farmland in a neighboring town can be preserved. Why pick on West Windsor?
A. Because it has zoned for a lot of new businesses.
Q. Why did it do that?
A. Because it needs new ratables to reduce the high property taxes that pay for its schools.

Businesses, of course, don’t generate children who need to be educated. Housing does. So townships would rather zone for property tax-paying development that doesn’t require expenditures for schools; i.e., commercial enterprises. What they try to avoid in their zoning decisions is houses, especially houses priced to appeal to young couples who don’t have a lot of money but will have a lot of children. Fewer houses and more businesses means lower school taxes, the main ingredient in local property taxes in New Jersey. Keeping property taxes low for existing residents is probably the leading reason—though not the only reason—for exclusionary zoning.

I left these comments regarding school taxes as a supplement to my comments on the property rights side of the zoning issue raised by Mulshine:

As to property taxes, they’re mainly driven by school taxes. And here’s the monumental irony: Most people love their local public schools, and support the NJ Constitution’s mandate to provide every child a “thorough and efficient” education. Yet at the same time they hate their high property taxes, and complain that new housing developments will mean more children and thus higher property taxes. But that’s not the fault of developers, property owners, or housing consumers. Higher property taxes should not be used as a rationalization to stop development, because the fundamental problem is tax-funded education, not housing development. Be careful  what you wish for.


Columnist Mulshine, replying to me, noted that

On the school taxes, suffice it to say that the constitution does not mandate a thorough and efficient education but does mandate that state aid be distributed equally, not in the current formula which gives some suburban districts hundreds of the aid of urban districts.

Article VIII, Section IV, Paragraph 1 of the NJ Constitution states: “The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.” It’s true that the constitution doesn't specifically say “thorough and efficient education.” But as I wrote in reply to Mulshine:

In my view, the “thorough and efficient” clause is vague enough to be open to all sorts of interpretation. But, however one interprets it, it’s still about tax-funded education, which then corrupts people’s judgment on development. That’s my main point.

So high school taxes to support government schools embedded in local property taxes leads local communities to resist housing development, which leads zoning boards to restrict housing development. A free market in both education and housing would solve both problems.

Related Reading:

Education in a Free Society—C. Bradley Thompson for The Objective Standard

More Freedom, not More Government, Will Solve New Jersey's "Housing Crisis"

No comments: