MOUNT LAUREL - The average property tax increase in New Jersey last year was a relatively modest 1.7 percent, Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday, a fact he is using to claim sustained progress on one of the state's perpetual political issues.
Christie announced the preliminary income tax data during a town hall meeting in Mount Laurel, but he did not dive deep into it during a session disrupted by protesters who faulted the Republican governor for not helping provide housing for low-income residents.
According to the administration's data, more than 80 local governments and school boards out of more than 1,100 decreased taxes last year and 160 had increases of less than 1 percent.
The tax bill for a home assessed at the state average of about $300,000 was around $8,200 - the highest in the nation.
Christie signed a law in his first term capping property tax increases at 2 percent but allowed governments to exceed that limit for a handful of reasons, including paying debt service.
In 2011, the average bill went up 2.4 percent, and in 2012, the increase was 1.6 percent - a contrast with a 2004 through 2006, when the bills went up at least 7 percent each year.
Bills under Christie have risen more slowly than in the past, but many homeowners have seen their liability increase significantly because Christie has not fully restored a rebate program that was gutted by his predecessor during the Great Recession and made available to fewer people.
An AP analysis last year found that the average property tax burden, when taking rebate and other relief programs into account, rose by 13 percent in Christie's first three years in office. That compared with a 15 percent increase during Jon Corzine's first three years in office. Corzine emphasized rebates more, while Christie has focused largely on controlling spending by local governments.
Controlling property taxes has been a major theme for Christie since he first ran for governor back in 2009. But talking it up now gives him a way to change the subject from scandals that have dogged his administration for the past two months.
A legislative committee and federal prosecutors are separately probing apparently politically motivated lane closures near the George Washington Bridge last year that were ordered by Christie aides and associates as well as claims that members of Christie's cabinet tried to tie Superstorm Sandy relief funds in one town to a mayor's support for a real estate development project.