Budget barbs continue – All eyes on tax cuts

TRENTON – Less than stellar April revenue numbers aside, New Jersey’s Senate president and Gov. Chris Christie appear undeterred by the state’s lagging revenue numbers and are focused on moving forward with a tax cut proposal.

Although tax collections are up for fiscal year 2012 compared with the prior year, revenue collections for the month of April were off nearly $184 million from projections, according to the state’s Treasury Department. The April shortfall leaves the state $230.2 million behind revised revenue estimates for the year to date.

The latest figures show state revenues continue to trail estimates, though little has changed between Senate President Steve Sweeney’s eagerness to deliver tax relief to residents and the governor’s optimism on his administration’s numbers.

“In the past two years, middle-class residents have seen their property tax burden jump 20 percent, and promise of the Earned Income Tax Credit has been all but broken,” Sweeney said in a statement.

“The simple and irrefutable fact remains that New Jersey’s middle class needs property tax relief and the working poor need help if they are ever to enter the middle,” he responded when asked whether the latest revenue figures posed a problem for a tax relief compromise.

Similarly, when asked if the figures dealt a blow to the governor’s tax cut proposal, a Christie spokesman deferred to an earlier statement from the governor’s office that was sent out following the Treasury report.

“… There are two months left of revenue and three months of sales to report,” reads a release from Christie’s press office.

Christie’s tax cut plan would offer an across the board 10 percent income tax cut, while Senate President Steve Sweeney has proposed a 10 percent credit on the first $10,000 of property taxes paid for taxpayers earning $250,000 or less.

As for Assembly Democrats, who proposed a 20 percent credit on property taxes paid and will pay for the extra cut by instituting an additional tax on incomes over $1 million, the revenue report is simply further proof the governor “built his plan on a shaky foundation,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald.

“Today’s disclosure is not surprising at all, in my mind, it was expected,” Greenwald said Monday afternoon.”I hoped it wouldn’t have happened for the benefit of the state, … but the governor’s numbers are reckless.”

Greenwald’s statement was echoed by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who said the numbers “are cause for concern” for middle-class families and New Jersey seniors.

“They also don’t bode well for the projections made for next fiscal year, so those will bear close watching,” Oliver said in a statement.

“We must move forward responsibly, and that means doing so with a reliable property tax relief plan premised on economic fairness and significant help for the middle-class and senior and disabled citizens,” she said. “The Assembly Democratic plan … is built on a strong foundation and is the responsible plan going forward.”

The governor has said the Assembly Democrats’ plan, which is largely being spearheaded by Greenwald, is a nonstarter. Greenwald responded by saying the message has not deterred him and other Assembly Democrats supporting the proposal.

“I’ve said repeatedly, if the only legislation I’m going to sponsor is the legislation the governor supports, then you don’t need us,” Greenwald said.

The governor’s office shot back today after Greenwald issued a statement earlier in day calling the revenue report “the latest evidence of why Gov. Christie’s proposed income tax scheme is wrong for middle-class families.”

“As to Democrats, particularly Lou Greenwald and his replacement as Budget chair, I don’t think we or New Jerseyans generally need to take any lesson from them as to revenues or budgeting,” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said. “You need look back only 10 months ago to the budget they tried to foist on the state. Had we accepted their budget, New Jersey would right now be $1 billion in the hole.”

In response, Greenwald called out the governor for being outspoken about taxes that were put in place to deal with the supposed mismanagement of the last administration, yet Christie keeps the taxes in place and “can’t spend the money fast enough,” he said.

“At the end of the day, Mr. Drewniak ought to look at his own budget,” Greenwald said. “It’s the largest budget in the history of the state.”

"The governor still has to come to bat."
—Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, on Atlantic City.