High property taxes, an onerous gas tax, an exodus out of the county, a crumbling infrastructure and a declining local economy affect everyone who lives in Sussex County no matter where they stand in terms of political philosophy.
Starting a dialogue across the great divide—one that has come to seem unbreachable in recent years—was the impetus behind an invitation for Jennifer Hamilton, the Democratic candidate for state senator, to address a meeting of Sussex County’s Tea Party, which she did on Wednesday evening.
Hamilton was invited to address the group by its president, Doug Amadeo. “Jennifer opposes the gas tax and has said she wants to be a fiscally responsible state senator,” he said. “I wanted to know what she meant by that, and I think she should tell us.”
During her 10-minute talk to the Tea Party, Hamilton stressed that although there would always be differences, it is important to look for common ground.
Which she immediately found by asking for a show of hands by those who thought their taxes are too high.
In 2016, New Jersey held onto its crown for having the highest property taxes, and the highest property tax rate, in the nation. The state’s overall mean tax bill exceeds $8,000 per year and some Sussex County communities pay much more; in Sparta, for example, the mean exceeds $11,000.
In fact, according to the NJ Department of Community Affairs, since the turn of the 21st century, tax rates in the state have risen from a minimum of 15 percent to a high of 30 percent in all municipalities.
And Sussex County has seen very little to show for it.
From ignoring the 30 percent of residents who are classified as “struggling,” to promoting a tax on gas in a county where roughly 22,000 workers commute out of a county with almost no public transportation, Sussex County’s representatives to the state legislature—one senator and two assembly members—have steadily and doggedly supported measures that place economic burdens on average working people for the benefit of corporations and the upper class.
The last time the county sent a Democrat to the legislature was in 1974, before half of the people living here were born.
So is it time for a change?
Even some members of the Tea Party seem to think so. While there will obviously be some sharp divisions—certainly in regard to social issues—between Democrats and the Tea Party, Hamilton and Amadeo have taken the first step toward finding areas of common concern, and her initial presentation Wednesday served to recast the Democratic Party not as a de facto enemy, but a party that shares many of its concerns. And thus, one hopes, demonstrating that the Dems want solutions that benefit all residents. Except the entrenched GOP power machine.