The Times, Trenton

'Millionaire Tax' Promoted

The Times of Trenton — Sunday, June 1, 2003

By MIRTA D'AMATO
Times of Trenton

TRENTON — Hundreds of educators and other New Jerseyans rallied near the State House yesterday for a "millionaire tax" they say will help balance the budget and avert planned budget cuts.

Arriving in cars, buses and trains, about 3,000 people converged on West State Street for a rally that included a concert and speeches by members of various groups.

Organizers said the rally was the latest event sponsored by the Fairness Alliance, made up of myriad organizations seeking to end unfair taxing.

"Because of state budget cuts and the fiscal crisis in the state, you have cuts in education, health care, senior citizen programs, medical programs for children. It is just enormous," said Karen Joseph of the New Jersey Education Association. "It is clear that we need to increase the revenues coming into the state."

Joseph said the alliance proposes a tax increase for the wealthiest in the state, about 2 percent of the population, while decreasing taxes for people who make the least amount of money. "The wealthiest people have enjoyed decreases over the years," Joseph added. "Now we are saying that they pay their fair share."

The rally drew speakers from a variety of organizations, including educators, labor leaders, religious groups and students.
Edithe A. Fulton, NJEA president, spoke of the unfairness of the state demanding more from school districts while giving them less. "This crisis was not caused by irresponsible spending. This crisis was caused by declining revenues," she said.

She said more than a third of the staff in Passaic received layoff notices because of the uncertainty of Abbott funding. "That's more than 670 teachers and school staff and their families facing the loss of their careers and their livelihoods, and that's happening not just in Passaic but in other districts."

"We desperately need more affordable housing in this state and the state is planning to cut back the budget for affordable housing by $25 million," said Daryn Martin of the New Jersey Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "We need those funds. That is why we are here today, to fight for a good budget, a fair budget, a budget that is not balanced on the backs of working people."

"This is a tax increase for the ones who've gotten the most from state income tax cuts so far. The ones who've gotten the most from federal income tax cuts still coming out of Washington - you know the program: leave no millionaire behind," said Jon Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

"For the richest people in New Jersey, the ones making over $1 million a year, this increase comes to just over 3 cents on the dollar. It's a tax increase for 50,000 households and a tax cut for more than 230,000. And it raises over a billion dollars a year that would help working people get health insurance, help college students pay tuition and help save homeowners from skyrocketing property tax increases."

The Alliance is calling for a three-year hike in the top rate of the state income tax from 6.37 percent to 7.5 percent on family income over $400,000; 8.5 percent on income over $600,000; and 9.5 percent on income over $1 million, which it says would raise abut $972 million annually based on 2001 state revenue figures and increase as the economy improves.

The plan also calls for reducing taxes for low-income New Jerseyans by exempting from the state income tax families making under $25,000 a year and individual filers making under $15,000. The exemption would eliminate state income tax for more than 230,000 households, almost 9 percent of all filers, at a cost of $41.7 million, an Alliance press release said.

David Weiner of New Jersey Citizen Action urged people to vote in upcoming elections, send postcards to legislators and contact representatives.

Heidi Olson, a special education teacher in Hopewell, said she agrees with the Alliance plan. "I want to get the funds back into the public schools so that we can teach students the way we are supposed to and ease the tax burdens on public citizens," she said.

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