Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

“A tireless campaigner.”

“An army of true Believers.”

“Supporters who would walk into a wall for her.”

These are just some of the phrases I have heard to describe the upstart Tea Party campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Anna Little.

In as much as the Tea ( Taxed Enough Already ) Party has momentum in New Jersey…it might very well be this race. The incumbent Frank Pallone was a key backer of the Obamacare legislation, so a win for Little would be a huge symbolic victory for the movement. It would also create the odd dynamic of putting New Jersey on the forefront of an upstart grassroots conservative movement for change.

I am told that the numbers don’t lie. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 6th and that, as they say, should be all she wrote….Right? Not necessarily. This is no ordinary election. Dems may very well stay home. And those who are motivated to vote might very well be the kinds of people who are – well, motivated to vote for someone like Anna Little. Not to mention that Christie ( a more traditional Republican…but a Repub nonetheless ) won the district by 8%.

And we know that The Governor himself who has been campaigning for out of state races all over the country has suddenly taken an interest in Little. Perhaps his team knows something. Scratch that, they definitely know something. The Governor’s own pollster has Little within 1 point and he allowed that poll to be leaked. These are all signs that there could be a seismic shift here on election night. And Christie doesn’t want to be seen as shunning The Tea Party candidate even though he backed The Gooch ( who was apparently too busy beating up Arnold Drummond and his two sidekicks Dudley and Robbie ) to win this race.

So, while Pallone has traditionally had a safe and comfortable ride here, we don’t yet know who the Tea Party is, so we shouldn’t count them out.

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In the early 90’s classic “What About Bob?” Richard Dreyfuss ( this was before Kippendorf’s Tribe  ruined his career ) plays the straight man to Bill Murray’s fury-inducing bafoon. The movie is a series of situations in which Dreyfuss, playing the shrink, tries not to explode at Murray who keeps pushing the envelope. This includes Murray ( his patient ) arriving at Dreyfuss’ country home uninvited and unnannounced. We keep waiting for the explosion of anger, and every now and then it comes…although not always when we expect it.

What can I say about the handful of Democrats who are on the precipice of open revolt within the Democratic caucus. Governor Christie is running the table, and those who don’t want to go along with his game plan don’t have enough votes to override the South Jersey and the north Jersey Democratic coalitions. Chris Christie, George Norcross and Steve Audubato who works through Joe D are calling the shots. And according to a disgruntled few, they had better get all these reforms done soon because this united front cannot last forever.

After Steve Sweeney stood with Christie to announce a compromise on the property tax cap the Assembly Democrats held their own caucus Wednesday morning. A handful of people who feel Sheila Oliver should not go along with the compromise caused “quite a bit of unrest.” And it’s not one single issue – which only adds to the chaos. On the one hand, you have some women legislators who feel Oliver has not done enough to challenge Christie on the women’s health issue. I am told that when Valerie Vainieri Huttle complained about that and other issues in caucus Wednesday, Oliver said something along the lines of “while you were out shopping over July 4, I was here working.” Needless to say that did not go over well.

What’s more, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald ( who is south j, but seems to wanna buck the new world order a bit ) said he doesn’t think Democrats should keep reacting to what Christie says all the time. They should instead make the Governor respond to them. I’m told Greenwald, Pam Lampitt, John Wisniewski and others feel the Democrats need to bring their own agenda instead of trying to glom onto things like the cap by declaring it was their idea all along…then insisting they “got some major concessions” from the Governor.

Oliver said Wednesday that the Assembly would fix the mistakes of the 2.0 cap bill after it passes through subsequent legislation. John Burzichelli and John McKeon met with Kevin O’Dowd in the Governor’s office to find out what exactly they could change…but some felt it was a little bit like asking permission.

Moreover, there are some who feel the party needs to do more for their traditional allies – specifically the working class union guys. Those guys voted for Christie in the last election. And since then, Democrats have done nothing to try and woo them back. In fact, just the opposite has taken place. They have undermined labor’s agenda at every turn; when traditionally it was Dems who protected workers, it’s now that same party trying to undermine them with non-negotiated givebacks that do an end run around collective bargaining.

Hey look, times have changed. One could fairly make the argument that unions gotta get real and stop threatening strikes over unused sick time and Lincoln’s birthday ( full disclosure: I’m CWA local 1032 ). But on the flip side, perks – however petty they may sound – are bargaining chips in the larger chess game of negotiating multi-year deals. The unions at least want the Democrats to pretend to show them some love instead of jumping on the “my property taxes are high and it’s the unions’ fault!” bandwagon.

The Democratic party needs to think about – you know, the party. They gotta stand for someone. Unions vote. And as one Democrat observed “It’s easy to craft a mission when you are unified, it’s nearly impossible when you are not.” If the anger from these loose coalition groups that comprise the Democratic party starts to bubble over the surface, the party could lose it’s cool like Richard Dreyfuss and never outsmart the guy who is actually outsmarting them.

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Yes, I know Max Pizarro already wrote about this. But perhaps I can shed some new light on the rift within Democratic party.

Apparently some members believe that Christie is “cleaning their clock.” Meaning that the Democrats have been panicking a bit over how to respond to the hard-charging Governor who has clearly tapped into public anger over taxing and spending.

At least 20 Dem legislators wanted to use the new proposed millionaire’s tax for a handful of causes and not just for senior rebates. There is a concern that by only rewarding seniors, it looks like the party is pandering.

I asked Sweeney about that Thursday and he said “Everyone has a host of things they would like helped out or restored.” However, seniors “were the largest single group” they could assist with what is actually a limited pool of money ( $637 million from the tax, according to OLS ).

There was also some disappointment that the Dem leaders held their big presser on Monday morning a half hour before the Governor stole the show by unveiling  his tool kit. Some are complaining that the Democratic leaders knew about Christie’s plan for Monday press conference for over a week and they should not have allowed his message to overshadow theirs.

All of this underscores a feeling among some that Sweeney needs to be more forceful. But clearly others in the party understand that they can’t fight The Governor on everything.

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It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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It was one of those surreal moments I had…finding myself rhetorically asking the question ‘so, what took so long???’

The Governor was in Haddonfield to sign legislation eliminating non-operating school districts. That’s another one of those State House-jargon phrases which basically means districts that have no schools. Apparently there are 26 of them throughout New Jersey. In some cases, those districts have only one student who they send to a nearby district which is equipped with an elementary, middle and in some cases even a high school.

But the non-operating district may still have a school board, may still have a part-time Business Ddministrator and more than likely someone there needs to file annual reports. In other words: a layer of bureacracy.

Well, with a  sweep of his pen the Governor eliminated those districts and presumably the overhead that goes along with them. 13 will be dissolved this year and another 13 next fiscal year. So good riddance.

New Jersey has 566 municipalities and 616 school districts. How is that possible you ask??? Good question. I have no answer for you. And New Jerseyans wonder why their property taxes are high. Well, layers of local government, particulary school administration, make costs go up and stay up.

But here is the flip side…so that I can also show myself to be the unbiased reporter that I am. Every time New Jersey tried to get rid of some of these districts ( going back to 1969 ) there was pushback. Yes, part of that is due to people trying to preserve their jobs but there is more to it than that. And here is the crux of the complicated dichotomy between home rule, and protecting state taxpayers.

New Jersey has good schools. Great schools, actually. Test scores and graduation rates reflect that, particularly in the suburbs. And people move here for a nice environment to raise their kids. Not only are good schools key to that lure, but people also like their nice towns with their own police forces and small city halls. You don’t wanna mess with that too much. Bceause once you take away what is appealing about moving the fam out to the garden State suburbs…people could stop doing it. Then there wouldn’t be any tax dollars to argue about.

Just something to think about, although eliminating districts with no schools is probably tough to argue with.

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When you look at what is going on in New Jersey versus what is happening in NY State there is just no comparison.

In Albany, a 31-31 Senate deadlock has resulted in chaos, paralyzing key pieces of legislation like maintaining mayoral control of New York City schools.

While New Jersey has a had long and laborious process of approving the FY 2010 budget…and it did take the Senate until almost 11:00 pm on Thursday night to finally pass it, the work got done and it was completed several days ahead of the constitutional deadline. But perhaps most importantly, a spirited debate preceded passage.

Democrats are basically saying that this is the best and most responsible budget the state can produce given the unprecendented financial crisis and subsequent drop-off of tax revenues to the state.

Republicans counter that this budget relies on one-shot gimmicks ( like the federal stimulus money ) and raises taxes way beyond what any reasonable person would consider fair.

Liquor tax goes up. cigarette tax up. tax on businesses up. lottery winnings up. And those making more than 400k will also be paying more.

The two major parties can squabble over whether these were the best places to raise revenue but the bottom line is the budget is balanced and currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Democrats say government spending is the way to ignite the economy and get it back on track. Republicans say that will only grow the public sector instead of the private, and giving small businesses a break is the way initiate growth. It’s an age-old argument and like with everything, there is merit to both ideas.

Our coverage from last night is worth watching. particularly for lawmakers who took those arguments to the floor. Hey, it ain’t New York. At least in NJ they are still talking about the stuff that matters.

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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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Two hearings in the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees. Senate on Monday and the Assembly on Tuesday.

These were both interesting, but for different reasons. Testifying were David Rosen from the non-partisan Office of Legislative services or OLS, and State Treasurer David Rousseau. Both men gave the same testimony to the committees on back-to-back days.

Rosen’s revelation was that despite a claim from Governor Corzine that his budget leaves a $500 million surplus, there is actually a structural deficit of $600 million. That would leave a $100 million hole. Asked to explain that discrepancy, Rousseau testified that Rosen had six more weeks of data to look at and realistically a $100 million deficit was statistically speaking, not very much at all.

But the interesting part in the Senate came when new Republican Committee member Joe Pennacchio asked Rousseau about the state investment council which lost NJ pension money by investing in Lehman Brothers. Fireworks erupted when Chairwoman Barbara Buono gaveled him and told Pennacchio that he was “finished.”

In the Assembly, Republicans and Democrats went back and forth several times over taxes. The premise of many of the Republican questions was “with New Jersey being one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation…”

Finally, Chairman Lou Greenwald challenged that basic assumption, which led to a debate over taxation in New Jersey.

Here is the truth: it depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that NJ has some of the highest property taxes in the nation. But some surveys show that NJ is the highest taxed and the most un-business-friendly environment in the whole country. But Democrats argue that if you measure the taxes people pay as a percentage of income…New Jeresy is actually below the national average.

One Democrat pulled me aside and suggested that someone in the media do an independent analysis. That is probably a good idea. The problem is that most of the data out there already is skewed because anyone who bothers to collect it can spin it any way they want, or pre-determine the outcome based on their beliefs.

And this doesn’t even take into account the level of services people expect here versus other parts of the country.

Anyway, taxes are high…it’s true…but do people really wanna go live in Nebraska?

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What a circus. At high noon, listeners from NJ 101.5 crowded in front of the State House to hold a mock funeral. The victims? New Jersey’s middle class.

Using an actual hearse to deliver two coffins filled with empty wallets, the ralliers chanted anti-Corzine slogans and sang along to Twisted Sister’s 1984 hit, “We’re not gonna take it.” The idea is that the middle class has been taxed to death and driven from the state. People dressed up in elaborate costumes and used words like “liar.”

Gotta give 101.5 some credit here. for weeks they have been collecting empty wallets to deliver to the Governor’s office. A key component of their public protest was Corzine’s proposal to no longer allow people to write off their property taxes on their income tax bill ( I’m summarizing here, the actual proposal was a bit more complex with strict parameters determining who is eligible ).  Anyway, Corzine backed off of that a couple of weeks ago. And if I heard it correctly today, at least one speaker credited 101.5 with making that backpedal happen.

Never underestimate populism. Although it pre-dates me a bit, 101.5 put itself on the map with anti-florio crusades in 1993. Democrat Jim Florio was voted out and Republican Christie Whitman was voted in. Florio will forever be remembered for proposing a tax on toilet paper. Corzine has proposed new liquor and cigarette taxes…but it’s hard to know if those are equal in their ability to incite outrage.

Well, this rally was impressive as a show…although it did not appear to be much more than 300 people.

But once again, 101.5 gets some credit. It was a publicity stunt worthy of the late great PT Barnum.

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