Archive for the ‘property tax rebates’ Category

It’s always hard to sum up a 22-year career, let alone one in the General Assembly.

But certainly some of Roberts’ most high profile achievements came as Speaker. Most recently when he pushed for autism legislation that requires insurers to cover early screenings, the second was instituting a permanent source of funding for those popular property tax rebates ( since scaled back, btw…harumph ).

At a Statehouse news conference, Roberts played down the latter achievement which came about after the 2006 government shutdown. I am not going to rehash all the details, but the long and short of it is a first-year-in-office Governor Corzine wanted to raise the sales tax by a cent. Roberts wanted the money to go to property tax relief. That issue had reached a fever picth within the electorate, and Roberts astutely calculated that any extra money must go to rebates before he ( as newly elected Speaker ) could reasonably do anything else with it.

What the experts have said is that rebates are a bit of a gimick. That’s true. But absent a complete restructuring of the state’s system of government, it’s kinda the only option we have. Roberts acknowledges that by calling the rebates a “flawed mechanism.”

But I would actually give him a little more credit than perhaps he is even giving himself. After all, the showdown in 2006 led to a compromise which established the first permanent source of funding for those rebates. that was Roberts. The Governor and he have shared the credit since then, but the Executive branch wasn’t pushing for that money to be used for property tax bill offsets.

The next interseting question is who will take Roberts’ place. The usual considerations are out there – geography, gender and race. Roberts candidly explained why South Jersey Democrats need to stick together to eke out a hold on some key posts in state government. That is because there are full delegations from places like Essex and Hudson counties who fight for their common interest in the legislature. ( Actually, that is somewhat lauaghable when we talk about Hudson being united,  but you get the idea ).

So, it comes down to who will get what. Bonnie watson Coleman, Joe Cryan and John Wisniewski wanna be speaker. I even heard Nellie Pou’s named mentioned in all of this. If South Jersey”s Senator Stephen Sweeney challenges Dick Codey for the leadership position in the Senate this fall and wins ( and btw – that is by no means certain ) then should the Assembly Speaker be from the north? That is a serious consideration.

Watson Coleman and Wisnewski are kinda both from Central J. Cryan is from up north. I asked watson Coleman if her being a woman of color would give her a leg up…and she wouldn’t go there. But others did on her behalf.

Hard to say what Wisniewski’s chances are, and Cryan’s fate could well rest within his current job as DSC Chair trying hard to get the Governor re-elected. In otherw ords if he wins, he gets it. But someone also suggested to me that even if Cryan loses, he might be the preferred guy to take on Christie as the Dem leader in the Assembly.

Poor Guv. What a pickle. if I were him I’d stay far away from this.

So, there is still quite a bit to be figured out in the convoluted universe of the Statehouse.

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Sometimes when we cover a certain story over several consecutive months, the conclusion can seem, well, anti-climactic.

Governor Corzine signed the fiscal year 2010 budget in a ceremony in back of the State House which left me with the question of  now what am I gonna cover?

The spending plan is $28.9 billion. That is smaller than last year and even smaller than the first budget Corzine signed back in 2006. He was joined by fellow Democrats who help shepherd the plan through exhaustive hearings in the legislature’s budget committees.

Not a single Republican voted for this plan, and several lawmakers issued statements condemning the governor for it. Chris Christie the Republican gubernatorial candidate said it raises $1.2 billion in new taxes, and more than a million people will also be losing their property tax rebate from last year.

Corzine was asked about new taxes on alcohol, wine and cigarettes, and he said they are “relatively small” when compared to property tax bills. However, he acknowledged his critics and their right to speak out against his spending plan.

Lest we forget this is an election year, and no doubt people are going to hold him accountable for how the state spends their money. I guess the question is how many folks will take their anger out on him at the ballot box in November?

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Here we go again.

Because of this – ahem – unexpected windfall, the state sudenly has half a billion dollars to spend that it previously did not.

Corzine and legislative leaders have vowed to put every penny toward property tax relief. Not sure if that will exactly be the case, but in fairness it’s probably pretty close.

The Senate and Assembly Budget Committees once again passed the FY 2010 budget, after it was recommitted following the discover of the windfall. That sets the stage for full passage on Thursday, still almost a week ahead of schedule.

But there were some changes, and sources say arguments over the details of those changes threw everything into a bit of chaos.

On Monday, the Assembly Budget Committee was set to meet at 11:00 am. After a delayed start and then plowing through some bills, they took a another break and didn’t come back until after 4:00 pm. The holdup was apparently an issue involving an increase in the health care premium tax.

Originally, the Corzine Administration wanted to raise that tax on group rates by 1.25%. Amerihealth, the Mt. laurel-based insurer went berzerk. As did Horizon. Amerihealth in particular said it would force them out of the market. But from what we have pieced together, the real holdup amongst the legislative leaders came from Senate President Dick Codey who went to bat for Horizon, and firmly dug his heels in.

I am certainly not privy to all the behind-the-scenes machinations ( although I will ceratainly try and find out ), but in the end the tax increase was only .3%. That’s a huge difference ( obviously ). And the same bill also restores the so-called one eighth rule – which is enormously complicated so here is the condensed: Companies doing the bulk of their biz in NJ would get taxed more if the one eighth rule were eliminated.

One final point here…now that the tax is greatly reduced it won’t be bringing in the $100 million in revenue the state was hoping for. So what will they do? Apparently the administration will use $60 mil or so from the “surplus lines guarantee fund” within the Dept. of banking & Insurance. What on earth that fund is or where it’s been until now is anybody’s guess.

So, there are a bunch of changes, and more will probably trickle out in the next few days. The question now is does the Senate have the votes to pass this budget? Democratic  Senator Joe Vitale abstained yesterday on budge cmt., setting the stage for another vote scramble on Thursday by Dick Codey and the Dems.

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Well, what do you know about that…

Apparently on the eve of the big FY 2010 budget vote in both houses, the Corzine administration discovers at least $400 million in unanticipated revenue. The reason is an apparently highly successful tax amnesty program which brought in $600 million and counting ( there are still many unopened envelopes that need to be counted and the plan was for it to bring in only $200 mil ).

20 minutes after the Assembly was set to begin voting, reporters get an email that the Governor is calling a press conference to announce the windfall. Corzine says they need to delay the budget to re-work the numbers, and that this money should be used for property tax relief. Corzine says he was forced to cut property tax rebates for 1.7 million people as a result of the tight fiscal situation the state is in.

So…this money will now be used for that, right? Well, the Governor and legislative leaders say it will. The details are going to be banged out over the weekend so we’ll see how much is used for homestaed rebates and how much winds up be dedicated to other “worthy causes” and “needs.”

Budget Committees are expected to take up the bills again on Monday, with full votes next Thursday.

But here is where this gets intriguing. Questions have been swirling this week about whether or not Senate President Dick Codey has the votes to pass this budget. with a 23 -17 majority, 21 votes are needed for passage. Republicans are united in their oposition, which allows very little wiggle room for Dems.

We already know that Democratic Senators Joe Vitale and Jeff van Drew plan to vote against it. Today NJN News learned that Senator Ron Rice who chairs the black caucus was also a no vote. That dips the Dems below the magic 21 number. We also hear that Nia Gill was against it.

So Republicans and others are saying that the real story here is Codey did not have the votes, something he denied to reporters today. Codey says in the end the 21 votes would have been there, and will be there next week.

But a cynic would say that the windfall info came out earlier than planned so Democrats could use it as an excuse to delay the vote since there were other ways of adding the tax windfull at a later date through a supplemental appropriation.

But of course that is all speculation…or is it?

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Now we know most of the budget particulars for FY 2010…

rebates are gone for non-seniors – that’s about a million people for a savings of $900 million. Taxes will go up on people earning over $400 k ( the Corzine admin claims that is just 1% of the population ), and the Guv was forced to scale back his plan to expand Pre-Kindergarten programs.

So how does that shape up? Democratic leaders are arguing that basically it’s pain all around, and no one gets what they want.

But here is the key question since the Dems control the legislature and don’t need Republican votes to pass the budget…are there enough D votes to get this thing through?

Senators Ron Rice, Jeff Van Drew and Joe Vitale all appear to be on the fence. In fact, last week Vitale threatened to vote against the budget unless the Governor maintains funding for Family Care. That’s the program that provides health insurance for the working poor. The budget would keep it flat, in essence cutting the rate of growth and not allowing new enrollment.

But now Vitale says he will not be the one to hold the budget hostage. And as Majority Leader Steve Sweeney told me, in the end, they’ll have the 21 Senate votes needed for passage because no one program should be saved over anyone else’s pet project.

That’s a fair point. I suppose another fair point is that the Dems are not going to embarrass Corzine by voting against his budget in a  critical election year…or will they?

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The main event wasn’t really a disappointment, because there were some staggering figures thrown out today. But when State Treasurer David Rousseau presented the budget for FY ’10 to the Assembly Budget Committee, the surprise wasn’t in the declining revenues.

We know that it’s an unprecedented economic climate. Revenues are down in every category – biz tax, sales tax and an astounding 19% down in income taxes.

But here was the May surprise: property tax rebates will be taken away for all but seniors and the disabled. There I said it.

This is going to be interesting to watch politically. Will the voters punish the Governor for this? Hard to say.

Here is what we do know…the proposed budget’s final number is $29.6 billion. That is $1.2 billion less than what the Governor laid out in his Budget Message March 10. And that is roughly $4 billion less than the orginal ’09 budget.

That is a significant reduction, and maybe the public will understand. Then again, maybe they need someone to blame.

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Chris Christie and Steve Lonegan are both Republicans but on policy there are some stark differences.

During the hour-long debate, the two candidates proudly highlighted those contrasts. Lonegan favors a 2.9% flat tax in lieu of the state income tax and he wants to do away with rebates. Christie says rebates would remain under his stewardship, and he criticizes Lonegan’s flat tax for what he says will be an actual tax increase for those who can least afford it.

On state spending, they both want to cut. Christie would begin each budget season at zero and build from there – meaning no automatic increases for every department. Lonegan would more or less eliminate or pare down every single government department, merging some and dissolving others.

Although Christie had targeted Lonegan in recent days with two youtube videos…including one that was quite unflattering…

during the debate, Christie seemed to look past Lonegan criticizing Governor Corzine and including his name with ( Former Governor Jim ) McGreevey at every turn. In one great line about Corzine’s desire to institute early education for all New Jersey children Christie called the Governor’s favorite word “universal” arguing that the Guv wants “all of you to pay for it.”

But Lonegan went right after Christie, and his zingers included one just after Christie defended his record as a Morris County Freeholder.

“I am so surprised you weren’t re-elected to a second term if your record was so good,” Lonegan sniped.

Excellent debate overall that really gave some insights into the differences between these two candidates.

Here are links to the debate, and our coverage on NJN.




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Bit of a conundrum for the Democrats perhaps? Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald was quoted in the Star-Ledger this week saying that he would “fight to the death” to keep the rebates.

Yesterday, top Democaratic Lawmakers met with the Governor and when they emerged from that meeting, Greenwald’s comments sounded a lot more like what the Governor has been consistently saying about those rebates…in effect: everything is on the table.

Senate President Codey did say that rebates for seniors will likely be preserved. The non-senior portion is $1.1 Billion out of total package of $1.7 Billion last year.

Here is why this is particularly interesting. When Corzine wanted to raise the sales tax by a cent assembly Speaker Joe Roberts wanted it to be used for property tax rebates. The Governor refused. The standoff in 2006 led to an eight day government shutdown. In the end, the compromise was to use half of the new revenue for rebates, but Corzine promised to increase them by 40%. Now, with an economic crisis, the state is in dire budget shape.  And the terms of the debate have shifted from how do we increase them, to how can we cut them.

Even Republican Gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie got in on that debate claiming Corzine’s changing position on this is directly responsible for people’s cynicism.

Exciting day at State House though as the story unfolded.

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