On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County.
Brody, Muir, Jr. and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The main issue in these appeals, which we now consolidate, is whether N.J.S.A. 18A:54-37 (the statute) violates the New Jersey Constitution. The statute has the effect of exempting the taxpayers of only the City of Bayonne from contributing to the support of their county vocational school. The trial Judge entered a summary judgment declaring that the statute violated the New Jersey Constitution's tax uniformity and special legislation clauses. We agree that the statute violates the tax uniformity clause, but not for the reason given by the Judge.
Notwithstanding any of the provisions of chapter 54 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes, in any county of the first class having a population of not more than 700,000 according to the latest federal decennial census, each municipality included within a school district which has maintained for a minimum of 20 years a vocational education program approved for the purposes of federal or State allotment of vocational funds by the Commissioner of Education under the regulation of the State Board of Education shall be exempt from assessment, levy or collection of taxes based on any apportionment of amounts appropriated for the use of a county vocational school district. [ N.J.S.A. 18A:54-37.]
Twenty counties have approved county vocational schools and almost every local school district has an approved vocational education program. The statute's tax exemption (exemption), however, is available only to municipalities in Hudson County, one of three first-class counties. It is not available to municipalities in the other first-class counties, Essex and Bergen, because the population of each of those counties exceeds 700,000. The exemption is presently available only to Bayonne because its approved vocational education program is the only one in Hudson County that has been maintained for twenty or more years.
To accommodate the exemption, Hudson County adopted a socalled "two-tiered" county tax rate. Bayonne paid county taxes at the lower tier because it was not taxed to fund the county vocational school district. The other Hudson County municipalities paid county taxes at the higher tier because their tax included the cost of the county vocational school district. Put more bluntly, and more precisely, Hudson County struck two county tax rates for its municipalities, the lower one solely for Bayonne.
The Constitution's tax uniformity clause provides in relevant part:
1. (a) Property shall be assessed for taxation under general laws and by uniform rules. All real property assessed and taxed locally or by the State for allotment and payment to taxing districts shall be assessed according to the same standard of value, except as otherwise permitted herein, and such real property shall be taxed at the general tax rate of the taxing district in which the property is situated, for the use of such taxing district. [Emphasis added.]
2. Exemption from taxation may be granted only by general laws. Until otherwise provided by law all exemptions from taxation validly granted and now in existence shall be continued. Exemptions from taxation may be altered or repealed, except those exempting real and personal property used exclusively for religious, educational, charitable or cemetery purposes, as defined by law, and owned by any corporation or ...