Asbury Park Press

Budget Cuts Called "Shortsighted"

Citizens groups urge raising taxes on rich, gas

Asbury Park Press — Friday, April 11, 2008

By MICHAEL RISPOLI
GANNETT STATE BUREAU

A coalition calling itself "Better Choices for New Jersey" kicked off a campaign Thursday to urge lawmakers to reconsider what it described as "shortsighted" proposed budget cuts and instead look at raising taxes and fees.

The group, made up of 21 citizen groups and left-leaning organizations, suggests hiking the state income tax for the 10 percent of highest-paid households, to raise up to $500 million, and increasing the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration and license fees to raise up to $1.4 billion.

Their intention is to reframe the debate about how to fix New Jersey's budgetary problems, said coalition member Jon Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, labeling the group "a strong voice in the debate that challenges the oversimplified notion that you can cut your way to prosperity or shrink your way to growth."

"We have to have everything on the table. We have to make clear to people (that) our quality of life depends on the state's willingness to invest," Shure said.

The coalition also suggests closing corporate tax loopholes and revamping subsidy programs for business to raise up to $300 million, and increasing taxes on gambling and alcoholic beverages to raise up to $80 million.

No specifics were presented about exact policies or how to implement them. The group said it expects to roll out more concrete proposals as budget discussions take place with state lawmakers.

During recent budget hearings, lawmakers fielded testimony from various groups crying foul on budget cuts, but at the same time hearing from the business community and others that more taxes are not the answer.

Tax increases opposed

Arthur Maurice, first vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the new coalition's suggestions would not solve any problems, adding that cuts in spending and the size of government are the right things on which to focus.

"There's no question that unless you get spending down, you can keep taxing every year, you can create new taxes every year, and you'll never ever have enough money to support government in New Jersey," Maurice said.

Gov. Corzine said Thursday at a Conference of Mayors meeting in Atlantic City that he would oppose raising taxes for the fiscal 2009 budget.

Better Choices for New Jersey said the $190 million cuts in municipal aid will lead to a rise in property taxes if other sources of revenue are not explored. The coalition also said more money needs to be raised to fix a failing infrastructure.

Campaign coordinator Eva Bonime said the group is especially concerned about how the budget cuts affect health care, higher education, rental assistance programs and recreational facilities like parks and museums.

"This budget makes the wrong choices for working families," Bonime said.

The group will be launching a grass-roots effort to enlist citizens to help spread their message in coordination with producing policy proposals, said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

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