Asbury Park Press

Coalition Calls On Lawmaker To Support Tax Plan

Asbury Park Press — Thursday, June 17, 2004

By JOSEPH PICARD
TOMS RIVER BUREAU

JACKSON — Members of the Fairness Alliance, a statewide coalition of more than 110 citizen groups, yesterday visited the legislative office of state Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, calling on the lawmaker to support the so-called "millionaire's tax."

"We are delivering 305 postcards signed by constituents of Sen. Singer, each supporting the FAIR Tax Plan, which will cause the 1 percent of New Jersey's wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share of the tax burden," said John Weber, a spokesman for New Jersey Citizen Action, a member of the alliance.

Singer was at a previously scheduled meeting when the group arrived at his Jackson office. An assistant took the postcards and assured the group that Singer would give their concerns due consideration.

"I have empathy for the people asking for my support," Singer said yesterday. "It's not hard for someone to vote against this bill when they don't have many senior citizens in their constituency. But I have a large senior population in my constituency, and they desperately need property tax relief."

Singer has yet to decide how he will vote on the Senate's version of the administration-backed proposal, which should come before the body in the near future. The bill, S1678, is in the Senate budget committee, where a vote to approve it and send it back to the full Senate is expected today. An identical bill, A100, is in the Assembly's budget committee, but no vote there has been scheduled.

The Fair and Immediate Relief, or FAIR, Tax Plan proposes an additional tax on yearly incomes above $500,000. Income above $500,000 would be taxed by the state at 2.6 percent. The administration of Gov. McGreevey is saying that the added tax will raise more than $800 million, which will go directly to property tax relief. McGreevey has said that no penny of the money raised in this way will go to government bureaucracy.

The bill will close out the state's NJ SAVER program, folding it into the Homestead Rebate program, and will increase the rebate to senior citizens and other homeowners. According to the administration, the average Homestead Rebate check for senior citizens will increase from $775 to $1,200, while approximately 1.17 million homeowners with incomes below $125,000 will receive a rebate with a new maximum of $800.

Opponents of the measure say that the tax will hurt businesspeople and be an incentive for them to leave the state. Opponents also say the "millionaire's tax" is a surreptitious way of introducing an income tax increase.

Singer said he understands both sides of the debate.

"No matter what the administration chooses to call it, it's an income tax increase," Singer said. "This year the base is $500,000. Next year, if the state needs the money, perhaps the base will be lowered to $300,000. This could certainly snowball and head downhill, until many people who are not millionaires are seeing their state income taxes increase. That is not the way I want things to go.

"On the other side of it, however, is the fact that the school districts in my constituency have not been receiving state aid in recent years, and they have been turning more and more to the local taxpayers," he continued. "Seniors on fixed incomes cannot afford the increases. Neither can young families trying to get on their feet. The tax relief this bill promises may be the only tax relief we can reasonably expect to get."

Robert Rivere, a Jackson resident in the Fairness Alliance, said the more immediate benefit of tax relief should take priority over a fear of a downward creeping tax increase.

"I highly doubt an income tax increase is going to come down to those of us making $50,000 a year any time soon," Rivere said. "Apprehension of what might happen should not keep people from doing the right thing now."

In the past two weeks, the alliance also has hand delivered more than 1,000 postcards to the offices of state Sens. Anthony R. Bucco, R-Morris, and Peter A. Inverso, R-Mercer. The group plans to visit the office of state Sen. Leonard T. Connors Jr., R-Ocean, next week.

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