BY TOM HESTER SR.
New Jersey Democratic legislative leaders on Thursday unveiled their version of the 2011-12 state budget, a proposal that totals $30 billion, $400 million more than the fiscal package Gov. Chris Christie has proposed.
The Democratic version restores more than $1 billion to underfunded school districts and also places millions of dollars back into property tax relief.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told reporters that separate legislation that would reinstate a so-called "millionaires tax" will also be moved. The measure would raise the income tax rate on New Jerseyans who earn more than $1 million annually.
The tax rate for people with incomes above $1 million would rise from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent. The rate would be higher than those levied on millionaires in Pennsylvania, New York or Connecticut.
The tax proposal creates a no win situation for Christie. The governor has repeatedly stated he will not reinstate the tax that he allowed to die in 2009. If he approved the new version, he would be in political trouble with Republicans. If he did not approve it, the Democrats will use it against Republican opponents in the November legislative election.
Under the Democratic budget plan, more than $500 million in estimated revenue would be used to restore state aid for suburban school districts. Christie cut $1 billion in school aid in the 2010-11 budget and has proposed restoring $250 million in the 2011-12 package.
"It's not theater, it's principle," Sweeney told reporters "This millionaires tax is about shared sacrifice."
The Democratic proposal also provides $50 million in public safety funds for cities and towns that have lost police and firefighters to layoffs and attrition. Layoffs in Camden and Newark during the past year have been blamed as reasons for a rise in violent crime.
Homestead property tax rebates would be doubled, not tripled as Christie had proposed. The Senior Freeze program, which freezes property taxes for people over 65 who make less than $80,000, would go back to full funding after being hamstrung by last year's budget cuts.
The Democrats also are planning to cut $300 million from the budget in "efficiencies."
The Democratic budget proposal depends on an expected $800 million in unexpected tax revenue The Christie administration has warned Democrats to expect no more than $450 million to $500 million to come in but Sweeney said he is relying on the state Office of Legislative Services estimate of $800 million.
The Democratic proposal will be sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), chairman of the upper house Budget Committee. It will reviewed by that committee on Monday. Sweeney said he expects the budget legislation will move quickly through the Legislature next week. The budget must reach Christie’s desk by Thursday.