Sarlo’s Estate Tax Phase-Out Sees Chilly Reception from Right and Left

Sarlo (right) with Senate President Steve Sweeney. Senate Democrats are trying to boost support for tax cuts that could pave the way for a fully funded Transportation Trust Fund.

Sarlo (right) with Senate President Steve Sweeney. Senate Democrats are trying to boost support for tax cuts that could pave the way for a fully funded Transportation Trust Fund.

A group of tax cuts could clear the legislature’s path for funding the Transportation Trust Fund if both Republicans and Democrats take the deal being put forward by Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36). Governor Christie has said he will only consider raising New Jersey’s gas tax to fund the Trust Fund if Democrats offer concessions on “tax fairness” but making cuts to the estate tax. Though Sarlo’s bill has some bipartisan support and a Republican co-sponsor in Steven Oroho (R-24), the plan is drawing fire from the left and the right.

As Sarlo outlined the details of his own estate tax phase-out and called for the $1.2 billion TTF’s funding cap to be raised this week, Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) said that he would only consider posting a bill doing away with those levies if they came as part of an explicit plan to fund the TTF and offered Christie’s successor the ability to change the pace of the phase-out if economic growth remains stagnant. The TTF could face insolvency as soon as July.

Sarlo and Oroho’s bill joins other Democratic bills to raise the threshold for taxes on retirement income and allow additional tax deductions for charitable contributions.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who has expressed his willingness to negotiate for a gas tax in the past, invoked tax flight when he said the cuts would do too little if spread across Sarlo’s proposed five-year phase-out period.

“New Jersey cannot afford to wait to phase out the estate tax,” said Bramnick in a statement. “Every year we lose more retirees to tax friendly states.”

The Office of Legislative Services estimates that the phase out would cost the state $550 million a year. Bramnick argued the state could recoup that cost if residents choose to stay because of a more favorable tax structure.

“I suspect the state would do far better by more people staying in New Jersey because we made this change,” Bramnick continued. “That alone will help make up for the lost tax revenue.”

Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) pointed to the cost of building and maintaining transportation infrastructure in New Jersey versus other, similarly populous states. Others like Senator Pete Doherty (R-23) have also argued that the solution to addressing aging roads and bridges lies more in cutting down costs than in raising the cap for the TTF.

“Under the NJDOT’s own numbers, New Jersey’s roads are the most expensive in the nation, an extreme outlier even among our neighboring states,” Webber said in a statement. “Any solution to the Transportation Trust Fund must include real and credible savings and efficiencies so that New Jersey’s taxpayers will know that their money is being spent wisely.”

Left-leaning advocacy groups New Jersey Policy Perspective and the New Jersey Sierra Club came down hard on the plan, with NJPP’s Gordon MacInnes saying there is “only one way to ensure ‘tax fairness’ in pushing forward a much-needed hike in fuel taxes to fund critical transportation investments: reduce taxes for the lowest-income New Jerseyans, who will feel the greatest impact of any gas tax increase.”

Sarlo’s Estate Tax Phase-Out Sees Chilly Reception from Right and Left