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The Boss
THE HIGHEST TAXED CITY

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

In his magazine article `Jersey City's Great Awakening,' Mayor Hague wrote: `There is [in New Jersey] a personal property tax. This is an old state law and fortunately the enforcement is left to the various municipalities whose taxing authorities use good judgment by not insisting that intangible property shall be listed on the tax return.' Thus assured that the personal property taxes would not be levied upon stocks, bonds, mortgages, savings accounts, etc., the business men of Jersey City did not list such property. The requirements of the organization continued to grow, however, and increasing attempts were made during the thirties to collect upon intangibles. By 1937, $1,092,000 was collected. Then in 1938 the city made what the companies called a `raid' upon them. In November and December Jersey City filed with the Hudson County Board of Taxation complaints covering more than a thousand corporations, from American Can to Wesson Oil, that had registry offices in Jersey City; the complaints alleged that the companies had failed to list between six and seven billions of dollars' worth of intangibles upon which approximately two hundred millions in taxes were collectible. The companies assessed often had only an office in Jersey City; some had their intangibles taxed in other jurisdictions. The State Chamber of Commerce denounced this attempt to collect vast amounts as dangerous to the industry of the state, but the Jersey City Chamber of Commerce meekly appointed a committee to meet with Mayor Hague `to learn what he has in mind.' Although the Mayor issued a statement in which he said that the collection on intangibles was fair, the two hundred millions were never collected. Without pressing matters so far as to bankrupt business concerns, the city collected $1,163,000 in 1938 and $2,598,000 in 1939, taking about one per cent of what was levied. The threat, however, remains; at any time that a business group might organize to oppose the regime their members could be forced out of business by the sudden imposition of a 5 3 per cent tax on intangibles. The very ownership of stocks, bonds, and savings accounts can be made a burden upon the holder by the levying of the current tax rate, which exceeds the income from most investments.

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