BY TOM HESTER SR.
Legislation Democratic lawmakers describe as ensuring that Gov. Chris Christie's proposed state budget matches his call for "shared sacrifice" among all New Jerseyans while protecting seniors and the disabled from increased drug costs and higher property taxes, was approved Thursday by Senate and Assembly committees.
The action by the upper house's Budget & Appropriations and the lower house's Budget committees places the bills (S-10/A-10) and (S-20/A-20) in position for approval by both the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly on May. 20.The first bill (S-10/A-10) calls for reinstating an income tax surcharge on the 16,000 New Jerseyans with annual taxable earnings in excess of $1 million. The companion measure, (S-20/A-20) would dedicate the estimated $637 million in revenues to eliminating the governor's plans to have senior citizens and the disabled who participate in two state-run prescription programs pay higher co-pays and deductibles. The money would also restore the property tax rebate for senior and disabled homeowners and renters.
Christie opposes the restoration of the income tax surcharge.
"The governor's rhetoric of ‘shared sacrifice' has one fatal flaw — he is protecting the wealthiest from having to sacrifice anything while our seniors and disabled residents get saddled with higher prescription drug costs and higher property taxes," Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester), a prime sponsor of the legislation, said. "It's time the sound bite of ‘shared sacrifice' matched reality. It is patently unfair for the wealthiest to be given a huge tax cut while seniors on fixed incomes get slapped with thousands of dollars in new taxes."
Under the plan:
The tax rate on income over $1 million would be restored to 10.75 percent from 8.97 percent.
Christie's plan to charge a new $310 deductible to 105,000 senior and disabled citizens in the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled prescription drug program and 23,000 senior citizens enrolled in the Senior Gold prescription drug program would be eliminated.
Christie's plan to more than double prescription drug co-payments on those senior and disabled citizens would be eliminated.
Property tax relief for more than 600,000 senior homeowners and tenants would be restored to last year's levels.
Statewide, approximately 278,000 senior and disabled homeowners and 78,000 senior and disabled tenants report less than $20,000 in annual earnings.
"This is a compassionate plan that allows the shared sacrifice of our most fortunate 16,000 residents to help more than 600,000 senior and disabled citizens struggling to pay for medication and keep their homes," Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) said. "We have made it very clear that we will work with the governor to solve our budget problems, but Democrats will not do so at the expense of elderly New Jerseyans. This plan spreads the pain and protects our most vulnerable."
Assemblyman Samuel Thompson (R-Middlesex), a member of the Budget Committee, opposes the legislation.
"Last year, Democrats raised the income tax promising it would be for one year. It expired on Dec. 31, and so has their promise because they are back again with their hands in the pockets of taxpayers who have soundly rejected tax increases,'' he said. "We need to solve the problem of a perpetual gap between what New Jersey government spends and what its people can afford. We cannot continue to rely on temporary patches that ignore our structural problems.''