Ban towns from charging for beach tags? Good luck with that

    There’s a bill floating around the N.J. state legislature that would ban Jersey Shore towns from charging for beach access if they accept state or federal funds to restore beaches post-Sandy.

    I’m not going to argue the validity of the bill. 

    But I am going to say I think it has very little chance of happening.

    This is New Jersey, a lovely, wonderful state of which I am proud to be a native. But we don’t exactly like change.

    Remember the kerfluffle about Rowan’s attempt to absorb Rutgers-Camden? The fistfight outside of church about BYOB in Ocean City? Lawsuits over beach access? Howls over Wildwood floating the idea of starting a beach tag program? 

    Most New Jersey Shore towns have built their budgets around that beach tag revenue, with Atlantic City and the Wildwoods being exceptions in the southern half of the state. To suddenly say “cross that line item out of your budget if you want help rebuilding your beaches,” especially when shore towns are still suffering at the hands of Sandy, is not any way to give your legislation hope of passing through. Cape May estimates that they’d have to raise taxes eight percent, which is over the two percent tax increase cap imposed by Gov. Christie. Good luck getting tourists or residents to say okay to that one.

    Wildwood maintains its beaches through a seven percent tourism tax and they STILL floated the idea of adding beach badges to raise revenue. 

    So may I suggest an alternative? How about revisiting NJ Assembly Bill 2657, which would have closed the tax loophole that allows summer condos and rental houses to dodge sales and occupancy taxes? The current law requires the tax for all “transient” lodging spots, but I don’t know any home or condo rental that follows that rule. This puts hotels and motels at a disadvantage, which is why you’re seeing B&Bs and motels turning into condos or condotels (in Cape May, those extra taxes top out at 14%). Imagine the money raised if all those rental homes in Avalon, Stone Harbor and Sea Isle, which have few hotels, had to pay sales and occupancy taxes.

    I can already see the realtors and rental home owners reaching for the comment box after reading that one. I’m not writing about it here to start a fight, but as an example of something that I thought had a more realistic plan than radically changing how Jersey Shore beach towns raise revenue to maintain their beaches. And even that was struck down last year.

    It’s in the state’s interest to restore the beaches, anyway. Tourism, largely focused on the coast, brought in $38 billion each year, even as the state cut the tourism budget to the bone.

    So let’s step back into reality on this one. This is the wrong bill at the wrong time, despite support from Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Sweeney’s from Gloucester County. Expect legislators from across Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties to fight tooth and nail over this one. Even Gov. Christie has asked that the topic be tabled this year. And if it progresses further, there will be lawsuits from all over the state. 

    Don’t bank on getting onto the beach free this year – unless, of course, you’re headed to Atlantic City or the Wildwoods.

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