BY TOM HESTER SR.
Democratic legislative leaders are critical of Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed $32.1 billion 2012-13 state budget, declaring it political theater, and describe his call for a 10 percent state income reduction, a tax cut for the rich at the expense of the middle-class.
“Gov. Christie just doesn’t get it,” Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said. “His zeal for tax breaks for the rich while middle-class families struggle with the highest property taxes in the nation is wrong. He has essentially proclaimed ‘Mission Accomplished’ after a net 20 percent property tax increase.
“Democrats will begin reviewing this plan (the budget) line-by-line, but will do so continually focused on ways to combat property taxes and restore the property tax relief cut by this governor,” Greenwald said. “Middle-class property tax relief is our priority.”
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said “What we got today was merely a speech, nothing more. As we’ve seen with each of the Governor’s prior budget proposals, the devil will be in the details that have yet to be delivered to us. “Now begins the intensive process of dissecting his proposals to ensure that our priorities are being met and that the working poor and the middle class will not once again bear the largest burden. Unfortunately, at first glace, that same recurrent theme appears to be in place.
“No matter how the governor dresses it up, a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut is still a disproportionately generous gift for the wealthiest among us, one that will have little-to-no impact on the lives of working class New Jerseyans," Oliver said. "Even more puzzling is the lack of details on how the governor intends to pay for his millionaires’ gift.
“The most glaring omission in his speech, however, was the complete and utter absence of a plan to address property taxes," Oliver said. "Every media outlet, every elected official and the majority of our citizens have identified property taxes as the single most pressing issue facing our state and yet the governor has once again failed to make this a priority. Together with Senate leadership, we intend to make this a focal point of our budget process in the coming weeks and months. It’s become clear that the governor, much like a magician, has become the Master of Distraction. So while he waves around one hand with gimmicks like ‘The Jersey Comeback’ and an income tax cut proposal, he’s hoping no one will notice that his other hand has been slashing programs for working families for the last two years.”
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) said, “The average property taxpayer is shelling out $1,275 more now than they did before the governor took office. Unemployment continues to hover at levels higher than the national average. Many of our schools and towns are still behind where they were three years ago. These are the real needs of the middle class. Yet all we continue to hear about is an income tax scheme that will effectively just put more cash into the pockets of the very rich.
“We have 110 days until our constitutional deadline to produce a balanced budget,” Sarlo said. “We will meet that deadline, and we will do so with a budget that puts the needs of middle-class New Jersey first.”
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) added, “I agree with the governor that real leadership will turn New Jersey around. Unfortunately, we're still waiting for real leadership.
“With his proposal to spend $2 billion more than last year while cutting taxes, Governor Christie's budget address was a masterful piece of political theater meant to divert attention from the problems facing New Jersey's middle class,” Wisniewski said.
“It relies on exceedingly optimistic revenue forecasts to justify his proposal to cut income taxes and turns a blind eye to the fact that our property taxes and state debt continue to rise.
“His income tax proposal would reward New Jersey's wealthiest residents with thousands of dollars while most of us would be lucky to get $100 in tax relief while continuing to face higher property taxes,” Wisniewski said. “It amounts to nothing more than the same trickle-down economics that has been destroying the economic security of hard working families for years. The governor's proposed budget once again sacrifices New Jersey's middle class to his national ambitions. It is a political document that ignores New Jersey's problems and rejects New Jersey values so that he can appeal to national Republicans and Tea Party activists. In short, it is less about New Jersey in 2012 than it is about Iowa in 2016.”
Republican legislative leaders offered praise for Christie’s proposal.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-Union) said, The governor's budget is focused on rebuilding and improving the foundation of our economy so that it will create sustainable, private sector jobs. By holding the line on spending reducing taxes for every working family, we can compete for jobs with every other state in America and show businesses that New Jersey is a good investment.
“Reducing the income tax is an investment in our state just like education, state colleges and universities, property tax relief, and support for the disadvantaged,” Kean said. “It is a needed investment in job creation for the still far too many workers seeking employment. The governor's budget presents us with a choice: continuing to do what has been working for New Jersey's economy and job market, or return to the days when unchecked taxes, spending, and borrowing turned our state into an economic disaster.
Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said he sees the proposed budget as a fiscal package that will help bolster New Jersey’s economy.
“Governor Christie outlined a fiscally responsible budget that will advance the New Jersey recovery for taxpayers and businesses,” Bramnick said. “The governor's budget increases state educational aid to its highest level in history, makes the required pension payment of $1.1 billion, and cuts income taxes by 10 percent. As a result of Governor Christie's leadership, we have a budget that funds core priorities and provides tax relief for every New Jerseyan."
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said, "The governor got it wrong with this budget and the middle class will pay the price if he gets his way. It's wrong for him to put in place a tax scheme that provides a windfall for the wealthy and only small savings for the middle class and working people. It's wrong for him to ignore the property tax burden carried by most homeowners and it's wrong that his past budget practices caused a 20 percent increase in property taxes during his two years in office.
"The governor falsely claimed that the property tax problem has been solved and he falsely claimed that cutting taxes for millionaires and multi-millionaires is the best formula for the economy,” Weinberg said. “He's wrong on both counts. We all want to cut taxes, but we should cut the right taxes and we should help those who need it most."
Sen. Anthony Bucco (R- Morris), the Senate's Republican budget officer, said, “The governor has continued to make good on his pledge to the people of New Jersey to force state government to live within its means while supporting important investments in our state: property tax relief, higher education, aid to local schools, support for seniors and the disabled, and improving our business climate.
"The governor's plan to cut the income tax is, too, an important investment in our state,” Bucco said. “Cutting the income tax leaves more money in the pockets of every working family in New Jersey while improving the environment for job creation. It is a down payment on an improved economic future in which growth is measured in the number of taxpayers and job opportunities we attract to New Jersey, rather than how much government spends and how high taxes are raised.”
The Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey also offered praise for Christie’s budget proposal, citing it as an effort to restore fiscal discipline to the state government.
The CIANJ is a business advocacy organization, representing more than 900 member corporations throughout New Jersey.
John Galandak, CIANJ president, attended the governor’s address. “For the third year in a row Governor Christie presented a budget plan that will allow state government to fund its priorities without raising taxes and pledged to veto any tax increase that was presented to him,” he said. “In fact because of the tough bipartisan decisions made over the last two years which have redirected New Jersey’s fiscal policies, our state is now in a position to implement a 10 percent across the board reduction in personal income taxes.”
Galandak added, “The business community has long asked for predictability and certainty from state government. This budget message continues to deliver both. This is another positive step in having New Jersey shed its reputation as one of highest taxed states in the nation. Signals like these make people stand up and take notice of how our state is changing and becoming a more attractive place to locate and grow a business. CIANJ is certain that the creation of private sector jobs will accelerate as a result.”
Bill Dressel, New Jersey State League of Municipalities director said with regards to the level of property tax relief funding that Christie has purposed, it appears that property taxpayers should expect level formula funding. He said this includes Energy Tax, CMPTRA, Garden State (Open Space) Trust and Watershed Moratorium Offset funding. While $42.8 million will be shifted to either the Energy Tax or CMPTRA distribution, Transitional Aid funding is slated for a $56.4 million reduction.
“The governor noted that, thanks to the bi-partisan reforms, pension bills are lower this year than they would otherwise have been,” Dressel said. “We were also advised that health benefit costs should be down slightly this year, with savings growing significantly over the next five years. While we appreciate the leveling of municipal property tax relief, we are disappointed with the state’s continued budgetary reliance on municipal revenues.”
Deborah Howlett, New Jersey Policy Perspective president, said, “The recession blew a $2.5 billion hole in the state budget that has never been filled. Now, the governor wants to dig that hole even deeper with an irresponsible gimmick that only benefit’s the wealthiest 1 percent. Proposing an income tax cut might be good politics, but it's bad policy for most New Jerseyans.
“For most of us, the governor’s proposed income tax cut will amount to $2 a week, which will be quickly eaten up by rising property taxes,” Howlett said. “Meanwhile, the top 1 percent will reap nearly 40 percent of the savings. The state's tab for this tax cut will ultimately be $1.1 billion, and that money has to come from somewhere. While the governor seems to think it will come from his pie-in-the-sky revenue projections, it's hard to imagine the state's stagnant economy will turn around quite so quickly. At the end of the day, it will be New Jersey's future generations footing the bill."