"We're going to have to be creative to work through all this," said Keith, an engineer with General Electric in Moorestown. "Everywhere you look it's going to be a dollar more here and a dollar more there. You bet it's going to add up."
In a recent interview in their comfortable home, the Werners discussed their family finances, trying to determine which of the new laws were going to gnaw away at their wallets, and which could actually help them.
On paper, the Werners are an upper-middle-class suburban family, on the cusp of affluence. In a good year, Keith, 48, and Kathleen, 49, bring in about $110,000. Their income puts them in the top 5 percent of all New Jersey taxpayers and is twice the average family income in Evesham. Four cars sit in the driveway of their home, which the town assessed last year at $268,000. Their children go to private colleges, and they take family trips abroad.
But they still clip coupons. A good sale usually determines where they shop. They watch each dime. And even so, there never seems to be any money left at year's end.
Unfortunately for the Werners, all this means they are in that range of
families who will be hit from both sides of the Florio tax increases: the progressive income tax, which lays a heavier burden on the wealthy, and the regressive sales and excise taxes, which pinch more sharply on those with less money.
When all is added up, the Werners could pay about $400 more each year in sales and excise taxes. Higher income taxes will take a bigger bite, rising by about $800 for this family in 1991. So in total, their tax bills could grow by about $1,200.
When you combine all that with Evesham's towering property-tax rates and auto-insurance fees, there's only one word for life in New Jersey, said Kathleen: "Unbearable."
Not that the Werners are planning to leave the state where they have lived since 1984. They like South Jersey and they like their jobs. It's just that they feel helpless and resentful as they watch their tax bills mounting at every turn.
"We're getting the short end of the stick from Trenton and from Washington," Keith said. "It's because the nation has elected liars. I'm talking about Bush and Florio. Tax increases were bound to happen; I just wish they were more honest about it."
The heaviest extra burden on this family will come from the higher income- tax scale. With their $110,000 combined annual income - Keith's $70,000 salary from General Electric and Kathleen's $40,000 salary as nursing-home administrator - the Werners could pay $805 more in income tax. According to the new tax rates, they could pay $3,595 on their basic income in 1991, up
from $2,790 on their basic income last year. These figures do not include itemized deductions.
This family, like many in the same income bracket, thinks its high income figure is misleading. "I can tell you we sure don't feel like we're in the top layer of New Jersey (income earners)," Keith said. "We feel like we're right in the middle of the middle class."
This year has been tough on the Werners because Kathleen stopped working
because of a bad case of pneumonia. She hopes to resume working at the end of this year - just in time for the higher income taxes.
The income-tax news is not all bad. The new law increases the deduction for each dependent by $500, which will bring $65 in extra savings. "Well, every little bit counts," Keith said. "It adds up, you know."
The Werners don't begrudge the higher income taxes, Keith said, because they would rather have a balanced state budget than a deficit. The income-tax increase is especially acceptable to them because the funds are earmarked to boost school aid. "I think that's right," he said. "The state needs to carry a certain burden when it comes to education."
Of course, it won't hurt that both school districts that tax the Werners - Evesham and Lenape Regional - are on the list to receive at least 40 percent more state aid. School taxes are supposed to fall as a result.
Also, the state takeover of local social-service programs is designed to eventually shave an average of 10 percent off property taxes statewide. The Florio administration touts these aspects of the tax plan as a relief for overtaxed homeowners.
If that spending does trim the local rates, the Werners will be grateful. Evesham property taxes have grown by about 20 percent a year for the last three years. Last year, the Werners paid $3,600 in property taxes.
The Werners will lose more than $150 in Homestead Rebates they used to get each year to soften their property-tax burdens. The new law limits the revamped rebate to families earning less than $100,000, so the Werners won't qualify.
The most upsetting elements in the new tax plan, at least to the Werners, are the increase in the sales tax to 7 percent, the new levies on paper and soap products, and new excise taxes.
"Think of what that does to a housewife trying to make ends meet," Kathleen said. "An extra $5 or $6, that's a couple of gallons of milk."
Keith Werner said the family would be painfully nickel-and-dimed by those changes.
Take, for instance, the new wholesale tax on petroleum products, which is projected to add 1.5 cents a gallon to gasoline prices. Since Keith uses at least a tank of gas a week, driving 26 miles round-trip to work, that will compute to about $10 more per year for his car alone, not counting the family's three other cars.
Another necessity for which taxes will increase, contact-lens-care products, cost this family $10 a month. With the new taxes, that's an extra $8.40 a year. Taxes on $100 per month of pet food will cost another $12 a year. According to the Florio administration, most people will pay $7.28 more in taxes on toilet paper, perhaps the most controversial of the newly taxed items.
The Werners say all they can do in response is tighten their budgets where they can.
One element of the tax plan is very popular with Werner. He gave up his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit in 1981. If he had not quit, he'd now be paying an extra $273.75 per year to cover the sales and excise taxes.
"Good," he said of the new tax. "Now that's something they're doing right. Maybe it will make people quit."