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Public Service Electric & Gas Co. v. Township of Woodbridge

Decided: June 28, 1977.

PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC & GAS COMPANY, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WOODBRIDGE IN THE COUNTY OF MIDDLESEX, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



For affirmance in part and reversal in part -- Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justice Pashman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned. Hughes, C.J., and Pashman, J., dissenting.

Conford

We granted certification in this matter, 70 N.J. 525 (1976), to resolve the uncertainty created by inconsistent decisions of different parts of the Appellate Division concerning the local taxability of structures housing energy generating apparatus of electric light and power companies under N.J.S.A. 54:30A-49 et seq. That act provides for the imposition by the State of excise and franchise taxes measured by the gross receipts of certain enumerated types of public utilities and for the apportionment of the net proceeds thereof among the municipalities wherein or in whose streets "scheduled property" of the utility is situated.

The legal issue revolves about the meaning of the term "real estate," which, as defined by the act, is taxable locally in the same manner as similar property of others. N.J.S.A. 54:30A-50 and 52. The definition (sec. 50) reads:

Definitions: As used in this act --

(b) "Real estate" means lands and buildings, but it does not include railways, tracks, ties, lines, wires, cables, poles, pipes, conduits, bridges, viaducts, dams and reservoirs (except that the lands upon which dams and reservoirs are situated are real estate) machinery, apparatus and equipment, notwithstanding any attachment thereof to lands or buildings.

In N.J. Power & Light Co. v. Denville Tp., 80 N.J. Super. 435 (App. Div. 1963), the court held that concrete block buildings of an electric light company which housed machinery, equipment and apparatus were nevertheless locally taxable "buildings" within the letter and intent of the definition section of the statute quoted above. In the present case, to the contrary, the Appellate Division held similar structures of the respondent utility not to be taxable buildings because they are "adapted and adaptable only to shelter and

support generating equipment" and are therefore, in effect, "Electric Generating Stations" -- a statutory unit with a scheduled valuation, see N.J.S.A. 54:30A-58, and hence part of the "machinery, apparatus and equipment" exempt from direct property taxation under the act. 139 N.J. Super. 1 at 11-12.

Before pursuing the exemption theory of the Appellate Division in this case we note that the structures in question do more than "provide necessary and essential shelter for the equipment they house," 139 N.J. Super. at 16. According to the proofs, the structures are also work-places for personnel. There are control rooms which are heated and air-conditioned and contain toilets as well as separate areas for instrument repair work. Maintenance work goes on in all the buildings. Compare N.J. Power & Light Co. v. Denville Tp., supra, 80 N.J. Super. at 439.

The theory of the Appellate Division was that the statute contemplates two kinds of "buildings," those which directly contribute to the generation of power or light and those which do not. The former are intended as exempt equipment and not as locally taxable "buildings" within N.J.S.A. 54:30A-50. 139 N.J. Super. at 11, 14. Only the latter kind of building is taxable, e.g., in the present case, the socalled administration building. Id. at 16-17.

It is elementary that in the area of construction of statutes, particularly those having to do with taxation or exemption therefrom, our sole guidepost is the legislative intent. We can have no concern, short of constitutional considerations, with the wisdom or policy of a taxing statute. We agree with the view expressed in the N.J. Power & Light Co. case, supra, that the best approach to the meaning of a tax statute is to give to the words used by the Legislature "their generally accepted meaning, unless another or different meaning is expressly indicated." 80 N.J. Super. at 440. Applying the generally accepted meaning of the word "building," the court found it to include structures of the

kind there and here involved. Ibid. We agree. The definition of "building" ...


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