Governor Chris Christie unveiled a plan to cap property taxes as well as salary and benefit increases for police, firefighters and teachers in municipalities across the state. The cap is 2.5% for salaries and benefits, but if a town wants to spend more for its public employees by having the property taxes go up, they can vote on it. That plan makes sense to me.
Yet, the Democrats in the legislature opted to hold a press conference this week and not deal directly with Christie’s proposal. The Democrats knew that Christie’s plan was coming for weeks, but rather introduced their own plan which was clearly intended to curry favor with voters, particularly senior citizens. The Democrats say New Jersey should reinstitute the so-called “millionaire’s tax”, except this time, the income tax increase would actually be on those who earn a million dollars or more per year. We are talking about less than 1% of the population.
In these incredibly difficulty fiscal times, I happen to agree with the Democrats. Governor Christie has talked extensively about “shared sacrifice”, and he is right. While libraries, public universities and colleges, state aid to local government and schools, and healthcare services for the working poor are taking a hit, so should those who earn the most.
I understand the argument about the wealthiest citizens leaving the state because of our high taxes, and the fact that the wealthiest are those who own the businesses that provide jobs. All that makes sense to me, except it just doesn’t feel right to require that everyone else take a big hit if those who earn a million bucks a year or more get off scot-free.
So, while I have agreed with the governor on virtually everything he’s proposed to get our fiscal house in order, we do have a fundamental disagreement on raising taxes on the wealthiest citizens of the state. Governor Christie has made it crystal clear that he will veto any effort to raise taxes. So, what are the Democrats really doing here? Frankly, they are trying to divert attention away from the fact that something has to be done to reign in the skyrocketing spending of local governments.
I’ve written and said it before that, in many ways, you can never pay firemen, cops and teachers enough. What they do is invaluable. But, we just can’t afford it any more. The biggest reasons for our property taxes going through the roof are the ever increasing contracts agreed to for public employees. These salary and benefit packages are just out of whack with the times. The Democrats in the legislature know that, but they argue that they weren’t consulted about the Christie plan to cap property taxes and employee salary and benefit hikes on the local level. That’s a crock. The Democrats knew it was coming, they new Christie was doing it and they knew the amount of the cap. But by saying they didn’t get a golden invitation, they think they can get away with not dealing with this problem head on.
Further, to divert even more attention from Christie’s plan, the Democrats talk about taking any new revenue brought in from the “millionaire’s tax” and using it to restore property tax rebates for senior citizens and increasing the subsidy for seniors who purchase prescription drugs. Well, who could be against that, right? But, here’s the catch. First, the Democrats know that Christie is never going to sign the millionaire’s tax hike. Second, if Democrats really cared about restoring Governor Christie’s proposed budget cuts, why are they only talking about senior citizens?
It is simple politics and pandering. Seniors vote and are organized. They are more aware than most voters, particularly about things that affect them. The Democrats said nothing about more state money for higher education or to restore proposed cuts in healthcare benefits for the working poor. What a joke. Could it be that the working poor and college students are not particularly well organized and don’t vote in high numbers? Imagine me being so cynical.
The Democrats in the legislature and Governor Christie are headed for an ugly and nasty stalemate. Christie’s not going to budge on any tax hikes and, if he doesn’t, the Democrats are not going to pass a budget or agree to any of the governor’s proposals to cap municipal spending until he capitulates on the “millionaire’s tax.” So what then? I’d like to be optimistic, but it’s looking more and more like state government in New Jersey is heading for a shut down on the last day of June when, constitutionally, a budget is supposed to be passed into law. At that time, the government will come to a grinding halt. Nothing good’s going to come from that and each side is going to blame the other. So, where does that leave the rest of us? Up a very ugly creek without a paddle or anything that will help us tread water. Isn’t New Jersey great?