Newsday

Protesters Take Legislators To Task Over Budget Cuts

Newsday — Saturday, May 31, 2003

By DAVID PORTER
Associated Press Writer

TRENTON, NJ — Chanting "Stop the cuts, fund the future," more than 2,000 people who favor boosting taxes on New Jersey's wealthy residents protested budget cuts proposed by Gov. James E. McGreevey.

A steady drizzle fell on those at the Saturday rally, which closed the block of State Street that runs past the Statehouse.

The Fairness Alliance, an organization made up of about 100 groups representing business, education, unions and the clergy, sponsored the rally.

The alliance proposes offsetting budget cuts by raising taxes on New Jersey's wealthiest residents, many of whom have benefited from federal tax cuts in recent years.

The so-called "millionaire's tax" would affect about 50,000 households in the state. The state's projected tax windfall would be about $1 billion, organizers said.

Jon Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, referred to the program jokingly as the "Leave No Millionaire Behind" program. "I want you to tell (legislators), 'You've got $1 billion in your pocket if you just go and get it,"' he said.

Herbert Greenberg, president and CEO of Caliper Human Strategies in Princeton, is one of the people who would be directly affected by the new tax rate. Saturday he said he would gladly pay it, and said there are many others who feel as he does.

"We've gotten a lot back and we don't need it," he said to cheers from the crowd. "A few thousand dollars more is not going to affect my quality of life."

Many in the crowd carried signs or banners criticizing planned cuts in education funding. "Ignorance – The Educational Alternative," read one.

"The real issue is aid to schools, colleges and municipalities," said Ed Richardson, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association. "That's where we're seeing the biggest cuts and where people are feeling the most impact."

Pratibha Malhotra, a middle-school teacher from Elizabeth, said cuts would force the curtailment of after-school programs that are already strapped for resources. A colleague, school social worker Dawn Di Nardo-Lippi, said her position could be in jeopardy along with other positions that come under the heading of supplemental services.

"Teachers are already running around as it is. They have class sizes of 150," she said. "They already have so much work, and now you're going to be asking them to counsel kids and be a resource for kids?"

Pam Contreras and Pat Reis, members of the Education Association of Morris Township, expressed cautious optimism.

"We're always hopeful, that's why we're here," Contreras said. "This always happens, but it's gotten progressively worse. We've got roofs that are leaking, and kids that won't have books next year."

The millionaire's tax is considered a long shot to be adopted. Gov. McGreevey has vowed not to raise income taxes or sales taxes despite the budget crunch. But Richardson said at least some legislators have been open to the idea.

"They have been willing to talk and listen," he said, "so at least we've gotten the concepts on the table."

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