On appeal from Tax Court of New Jersey, whose opinion is reported at 4 N.J. Tax. 582 (1982).
Bischoff, Petrella and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
In an opinion reported at 4 N.J. Tax. 582 (1982), the Tax Court upheld the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30 against the charge that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The facts are fully stated in the opinion below and need not be repeated here to deal with the legal issues that have been raised. Under attack is a provision which grants a property tax exemption to "the widow" of a New Jersey war veteran who became totally disabled as the result of active military service. Defendant, the widower of such a veteran, claims the exemption. He contends that the statute sexually discriminates against him and his deceased wife. The tax court judge upheld the statute and reversed the county board judgment which had allowed the exemption. We reverse the judgment of the tax court.
The exemption for veterans and their widows appears in N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.30 (the statute). The relevant provisions are as follows:
a. The dwelling house and the lot or curtilage whereon the same is erected, of any citizen and resident of this State, now or hereafter honorably discharged
or released under honorable circumstances, from active service, in time of war, in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States who has been or shall be declared by the United States Veterans Administration or its successors to have a service-connected disability . . . declared . . . to be a total or 100% permanent disability . . . shall be exempt from taxation. . . .
b. The widow of any such citizen and resident of this State who at the time of his death was entitled to the exemption provided under this act, shall be entitled, on proper claim made therefor, to the same exemption as her husband so had, during her widowhood and while a resident of this State, for the time that she is the legal owner thereof and actually occupies the said dwelling house or any other dwelling house thereafter acquired.
The statute also provides an exemption for specific disabling injuries. It is conceded that defendant would qualify for the exemption had he been a disabled veteran's widow.
Art. VIII, § 1, para. 1 of the 1947 New Jersey Constitution provides in part: "Property shall be assessed for taxation under general laws and by uniform rules." The exemption provided for in the statute is contrary to that constitutional provision because it is based on the personal status of the owner rather than the use to which the property is put. N.J. Turnpike Auth. v. Washington Tp., 16 N.J. 38, 44-45 (1954). That provision of the Constitution presents no problem, however, because another provision of the Constitution expressly authorizes the Legislature to enact the exemption in question. Art. VIII, § 1, para. 3, prior to a December 8, 1983 amendment provided in relevant part:
3. Any citizen and resident of this State now or hereafter honorably discharged or released under honorable circumstances from active service, in time of war or of other emergency as, from time to time, defined by the Legislature, in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States . . . who has been or shall be declared by the United States Veterans Administration, or its successor, to have a service-connected disability, shall be entitled to such . . . deduction from taxation as from time to time may be provided by law. . . . The widow of any [such] citizen and resident of this State . . . shall be entitled, during her widowhood, and while a resident of this State, to the deduction or cancellation in this paragraph provided for honorably discharged veterans and to such further deductions as from time to time may be provided by law.
That paragraph also provided an annual tax credit of $50 for veterans and authorized the Legislature to extend the credit to a veteran's widow. The extension was ...