BY TOM HESTER SR.
The Democratic-controlled Assembly Monday failed to gain the necessary Republican support to override the veto by Gov. Chris Christie of two bills that would have restored a state income tax surcharge on 16,000 New Jerseyans who earn more than $1 million annually as a way to raise $635 million to finance the restoration of property tax rebates for more than 600,000 seniors and disabled.
The vote on bill (A-20), which would have dedicated the revenue raised by the surcharge for property tax rebates for seniors and the disabled and to help support two state-run prescription programs fro low-income seniors and disabled, was 47-33.
A total of 54 votes, including 7 from the Republicans, would have been necessary for an override. No Republicans voted in favor of the override.
The vote came after 26 minutes of debate.
With the defeat, the Democrats did not attempt to override the second bill (A10) which would have restored the income tax surcharge that expired Jan. 31.
Democrats realized they had little chance of luring 7 of the 33 Republicans from under Christie's overshadowing wing but even in defeat, they were able to raise the issue of the governor eliminating rebates for seniors and the disabled in the hope of embarrassing him politically a second time.
After the vote, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said, "Nothing has been more important to Democrats than protecting our most vulnerable senior and disabled citizens who are struggling to pay their property taxes and keep their homes, but sadly Republicans do not share that value.
"Unfortunately, Republicans sided with millionaires over senior citizens, even when they had a chance to correct their mistake,'' Oliver said. "I was hopeful they would show some independence from their governor and work with us to protect elderly New Jerseyans. Republicans will now have to reflect on their votes and the pain they will bring to our senior and disabled residents."
Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) charged Democrats were attempting to spend money that didn't exist.
"This is kind of typical for the Assembly majority and Democratic Party, spending money they really don't have,'' DeCroce said. "If you were sincere about this (restoring the millionaires' tax), this could have been put together in the lameduck when you had the support of your governor (Jon Corzine).
"You had $2 billion in (federal) stimulus that went right out the window,'' DeCroce said. "Now we are in a situation where there is no money, you spent us into oblivion. Now, there is no money left to help 600,000 seniors. It's a shame, this never should have happened.‘'
The Democratic-controlled Senate was prepared to attempt override votes but the defeats in the Assembly left the upper house unable to act.
Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said following the vote, "The Republicans today proved that blind loyalty to their governor is more important than standing up for their constituents. Their slogan of ‘shared sacrifice' isn't worth the bumper sticker it's printed on."
Christie vetoed the bills on May 20, the day both houses initially passed them despite his opposition.
Democrats wanted to use $563 million of the $635 million for the rebates and $72 million to head off prescription increases.
An analysis prepared in April by the nonpartisan state Office of Legislative Services reported that under the Christie plan to eliminate rebates, a retired couple living on a fixed income of $40,000 would see a $1,320 increase in taxes while a family making $1.2 million would receive a tax cut of $11,598.
If rebates for seniors and the disabled had been restored, the average check would have been $1,295, according to Democrats. People with incomes up to $150,000 would be eligible. Democrats also argued that the surcharge would cost millionaires 2 cents on the $1.
Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester), the sponsor of (A-20), said "We now know for certain that the Republican priority is protecting tax cuts for millionaires over property tax relief for senior citizens. That's terrible news for the more than 600,000 senior and disabled New Jerseyans who will now be unable to afford their property taxes.
"We've rarely seen a more heartless vote than the one we just saw,'' Moriarty said. "Thanks to Republicans, senior citizens throughout this state now face painful property tax increases. Many will be out $1,295 this year while millionaires enjoy their $11,500 tax cut. That's unconscionable.''
Assemblyman Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) said the millionaires' tax expired Jan. 31 so Christie did not veto a bill that would provided the wealthy a tax break.
"Democrats enacted legislation that provided the tax expire Jan. 31,‘' Thompson said. "This is a new tax bill. We really had no recourse, we had an $11 billion budget deficit here. We just didn't have the money.''
Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), said, "I would have expected my Republican colleagues to protect lower-income senior and disabled citizens with the same zealousness in which they protect millionaires, but apparently that was too much to expect. Today's vote is a sad day for New Jersey, but it at least we now know where everybody stands. This vote made clear that Republicans prefer tax cuts for millionaires over property tax relief for senior citizens."