The Times, Trenton

Wealthy New Jerseyans Offer To Absorb Income Tax Hike

The Times of Trenton — Thursday, April 24, 2003

Times of Trenton

A group of wealthy New Jerseyans, including the owner of the defunct Trenton Shooting Stars professional basketball team, said yesterday they are willing to pay more in income taxes to help with the state's financial crisis and to stop planned budget cuts.

They back a plan by the special-interest group the Fairness Alliance that calls for a three-year increase in the top rate of the state income tax.

The alliance said nearly $1 billion would be raised by boosting the income tax from 6.37 percent to 7.5 percent on incomes over $400,000; to 8.5 percent over $600,000; and to 9.5 percent over $1 million, affecting about 50,000 households. Princeton Township resident Herbert Greenberg, who owns the disbanded Trenton basketball team and who describes himself as a millionaire, said his lifestyle wouldn't suffer if he had to pay a few thousand dollars more. He said he does not agree with the tax-cut initiatives of President Bush and didn't support the income-tax cuts pushed through the state Legislature by then-Gov. Christie Whitman in the 1990s.

"This whole approach (provides) big benefits to the rich and very little benefit to the middle class," Greenberg said. "It accomplished two things - it hurt the economy and right now we're diving into a deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars. And at the same time they're talking about a further tax cut." Greenberg said when a rich person gets a tax cut, he typically saves the money or buys some stock while a middle-class or poor person plows the money right back into the economy.

Greenberg said he participated in yesterday's news conference in Trenton as a member of Jon Shure's New Jersey Policy Perspective group. The Fairness Alliance plan is an extension of the so-called "millionaire's tax" proposal made by Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, D-Hudson. His plan has received little support from lawmakers.

In addition, Gov. James E. McGreevey has vowed not to raise income or sales taxes.

"Tough economic times are exactly when you shouldn't be raising taxes," McGreevey spokesman Micah Rasmussen said.

But those who spoke yesterday said they are willing to pay more. Greenberg, who said he knows and likes McGreevey, believes the governor is afraid of being labeled a tax-increaser.

"Obviously, no one wants to pay more taxes, but the windfall I received is far more than I needed," said Greenberg, president and CEO of Caliper Human Strategies. "And it ends up going into my savings account and not back into the economy."

The alliance proposal also calls for income tax exemptions for families making less than $25,000 and individuals making $15,000 or less. The exemptions are now $20,000 and $10,000.

Greenberg, 73, said he grew up "very poor" in Brooklyn.

His company, Caliper, has about 175 employees in New Jersey and about 75 to 80 overseas. "We assess personnel for industry," Greenberg explained. "We work with companies to upgrade productivity."

Asked if he thinks the government might respond favorably to the alliance proposal, Greenberg said, "I don't know. I find it very difficult to think of legislators saying this doesn't make sense. It's a modest tax increase to 2 percent of the state taxpayers."

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