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The Boss
THE HIGHEST TAXED CITY

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

Higher tax rates than any other city over 50,000. The assessments of 100 and 150 per cent. The railroad taxes and the bankruptcy of the Jersey Central. The $72,000,000 debt, highest per capital; county debt; burden of service on the debt; default. What citizens get for their money: littered, gas-lighted streets, poorly paved. Ashes and garbage dumped near the Medical Center.

You must neglect no circumstance of sumptuous display; but a Prince of a too generous disposition will consume his whole substance in things of this sort and will be obliged ... to burden his subjects with extraordinary taxes.


WHEN FRANK HAGUE became mayor of Jersey City in 1917 and his organization took over the city government, the tax rate was $21 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. The total cost of the city government, including schools, was $3,994,502, or $14.79 per capita. No one today Would think this excessive. In addition to the city taxes the municipality collected $2,859,908 for state and county purposes, so that the total of all taxes collected was $6,854,410, or $29.09 per capita. Ten years later the tax rate had risen from $21 to $35.75, an increase of 41 per cent. Beginning in 1927 the costs of schools and city government are separated, so we find that schools cost $4,429,574 and the city government $10,107,085, a total of $14,536,659, or $47.35 per capita. The per capita cost had increased in the first ten years more than three hundred per cent. (Figures taken from reports of the New Jersey State Tax Department. Population estimated pro rata to the nearest census.) During this year, 1927, Mayor Hague wrote an article entitled `Jersey City's Great Awakening,' apparently his only venture into authorship. In this essay he said `An impression seems to have gone abroad that taxes in Jersey City are extremely high and inequitable. These sinister rumors have been the means of repelling a number of corporations contemplating building manufacturing plants in Jersey City.' It is not difficult to understand how the sinister rumors got started, but the Mayor hastened to assure his readers without going into the amount or the rate of taxes, `The truth is quite to the contrary, in fact all industries in Jersey City are content with present tax methods.' (Journal of Industry and Finance, vol. 1, p. 6. (November, 1927.)

By 1937 the tax rate was higher than ever, $47.54 per thousand, more than double what it was when Hague became mayor. The total amount collected was $26,250,975, six millions more than in 1927, and more than four times the amount raised in 1917. In ten years the costs of the city government, aside from schools, had risen nearly four million dollars, to $14,083,949; the costs of schools, however, had gone up only $929,971 to $5,359,545. The total for local purposes was $19,443,494, or $60.60 per capita.

The budget of 1940 set a new high. The total was $44,315.002, the tax rate $53.13. The costs of the city government. excluding schools, showed an increase of more than four million dollars in three years to total $18,117,628. The schools got an additional $188,397, or $5,548,032 altogether. Schools and city government now cost $23,665,660, or $78 per capita.

In the years from 1917 to 1940 the city has, of course. grown. From a city of 270,000 it has become a city of 301,012, but the per capita cost of government has grown disproportionately. Costs of government have risen everywhere as public authority has assumed new tasks, but while the population increased less than one third, the per capita costs in Jersey City have risen from $14 to $78 – five times. A per capita cost of $78 is not the total tax burden borne by the Jersey City taxpayer, for he has also state and county taxes; $78 represents his city tax alone.

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