TRENTON – Key Assembly Democrats this week said they would like to expunge at least two of the more controversial elements of Gov. Jon Corzine’s budget proposal: the one-year property tax deduction on income taxes and the request for property tax rebate freezes for non-senior homeowners making over $75,000 and reexamine alternatives.
“I’m not certain the property tax deduction will be in the budget when it’s done,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville). “We have to try to embrace these things as temporary measures, but my own personal suggestion on how we get through this is we may have to borrow money to get the state through its current economic crisis.
“I know it’s near heresy to say that, and in normal times that’s true, but now we ought to at least seriously consider borrowing. Against the pension fund? Sure, at least examine it. There are a variety of vehicles we have.”
Given thevast spectrum of income earners in the state, the budget as proposed is fair, according to Mary Forsberg of New Jersey Policy Perspective.
"Half the people inthe state whopay taxes make under $50,000, so the fact that the governor is guranteeing property tax rebates to people who earn up to $75,000 is a good thing," Forsberg said.
But Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers' Association, shook his headat Corzine's address, arguing, "The NJTA formally opposes the out of control tax increases rampant throughout the State of New Jersey."
Immediately following the governor’s $29.8 billion budget speech on Tuesday, both parties quickly characterized the proposed cuts in what arecertain tobe evolving campaign narratives.
Republicans reaffirmed Corzine’s budget – slimmed by $3 billion from last year- as the handiwork of a disingenuous and remote Wall Street millionaire at war with business and the middle class. Democrats insisted the early budget protects the elderly, children and the most vulnerable during a global recession and imposes the same austerity to state government spending that families are enforcing on their household budgets.
“Clearly the middle class is taking the heat of it here,”’ said Assemblyman David Rible (R-Wall). “The Democrats are using the most vulnerable, seniors and children as a fence to protect themselves.”
Suburban Democrats like Wisniewski and Majority Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) signify the majority’s early willingness during upcoming budget hearings to try to battle back those mentioned proposals for the sake of the middle class – their core constituency.
Although Burzichelli called Corzine’s proposal a “remarkable, pragmatic starting point and Harry Trumanesque,” like Wisniewski he agrees that two of the budget’s set pieces are too punishing to middle-class taxpayers.
“I would like to get rid of the property tax deduction of state income tax, and I’d like to see the property tax rebate numbers expanded to a little over $75,000,” Burzichelli said. “It’s early still, but there is talk there could be a deal struck on pension deferral.”
Republicans remain unconvinced Corzine and the Democrats can project credibility.
“We heard a guy who took no responsibility for where we are,” said state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington). “We have had unfettered taxing and spending, which has gotten us in a situation where we are 50th in the country for business friendliness.”
Even as they point to the Whitman administration’s borrowing against the pension fund in the 1990s as a GOP blunder that hastened the state’s budget crisis, and Republicans punch back with a reminder of Gov. Jim McGreevey's borrowing effort, deemed unconstitutional in Lance v. McGreevey, Democrats are willing to examine a similar move now just days before the budget committee sinks its teeth into Corzine’s working proposal on March 18th.
“No one’s happy at the moment, but there’s a lot of game to play,” Burzichelli said.