Inquirer Editorial: Christie's budget critiqued

JOHN OVERMYER
JOHN OVERMYER

Property taxes will remain high

Posted: February 27, 2012

It seems like Gov. Christie used an old twin-lens reflex camera to take his budget pictures this year.

That could explain his parallax view of New Jersey taxes and revenue projections.

He wants to cut the income tax 10 percent over the next three years, but it's property taxes that most residents want to see reduced.

The income- tax cut will result in a barely noticeable $80 put back into the pocketbooks of the average $50,000-a-year earner, and $7,000 for a $1 million earner.

A recent Rutgers University poll showed 76 percent of New Jersey residents would rather see their property taxes reduced. And most of those respondents didn't even know how little the income-tax cut would mean for them.

The fastest way that the state could cut property taxes would be by increasing school funding, which accounts for the biggest hunk of property owners' tax bills. If he used the $183 million from the income-tax cut to help schools, property owners might feel some relief. They need it. Middle- and upper-income earners have seen a 20 percent net increase in property taxes becauuse Christie cut their Homestead Rebates.

The problem with the governor's budget camera is that it takes an agile photographer to understand that sometimes what he's seeing through the view lens isn't exactly the same as what the photographic lens is picking up.

Maybe that's why Christie's budget also seems to rely on fuzzy revenue projections. His $32.1 billion budget requires a 7.5 percent increase in revenue. But revenue came in 3 percent behind projections last year, which should signal a more cautious approach to spending and cutting income taxes.

Democrats are saying the state's richest residents can afford to pay higher taxes, but Christie warns that he will veto a millionaires' tax. The governor's budget address opened a new round of political pandering. Because this budget comes at the start of New Jersey's long gubernatorial campaign cycle, the lines between budget debates and grandstanding are likely to be even more blurred than usual.

Christie's budget did take some important steps, including a few Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett should consider. Unlike Corbett, Christie wants to spend more money on higher education and transportation. Christie also restored an earned income tax credit for the working poor, giving them about $550 a year, which will help them pay for food and other necessities.

But proving that the administration has too little concern for the environment, Christie's budget takes $210 million from the state's clean-energy fund, which helps residents and businesses save money on utility bills by reducing energy consumption.

This budget needs a re-shoot, maybe with a sharper focus on the state's revenue picture and the people's wishes.

|
|
|
|
|