View Full Version : New Jersey to use Minnesota Plan for Tax Relief

September 15th, 2006, 12:40 PM
Tax sharing plan from Minnesota urged for Jersey

Friday, September 15, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Lawmakers on a special committee looking for ways to reduce New Jersey's highest-in-the-nation property taxes were told yesterday that regional tax sharing could be part of the solution.

Rohn Hein, legislative coordinator for the New Jersey Regional Coalition, urged the lawmakers to copy a Minnesota program that spreads 40 percent of the growth of the business tax base across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

"In New Jersey we cannot allow old towns to die when the malls, office parks and jobs migrate to newer areas and take the tax base with them," Hein said. He said regional tax sharing "reduces property taxes for a majority of communities -- especially those suffering under the most crushing tax burden."

Hein described his group as a "faith-based and grassroots coalition." He said regional tax sharing is "more realistic" than the prospect of governmental consolidation.

By teleconference, Myron Orfield, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law, said the Twin Cities tax-sharing program fostered cooperative efforts that raised the area's median income from 14th in the nation in 1990 to fourth in 2000.

Orfield said 187 municipalities in seven counties are part of the program. They keep all taxes from businesses they already had in 1971, when the legislature established the program, but share 40 percent of taxes from new businesses and industry, Orfield explained.

"It sounds too good," Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R-Morris) said. He said he could not see it working in New Jersey "in the near term" because the state's economy is not growing.

"In the beginning, the changes are gradual," Orfield replied, "especially in a slow-growing economy." But he said it "would create immediate incentives for all municipalities to work together."

It was the fourth hearing at which the Joint Legislative Committee on Constitutional Reform has heard from invited experts. It is inviting members of the public to offer their ideas for amending the state constitution to lower property taxes at its next meeting.

That hearing will be held Thursday at noon at the Livingston Student Center of Rutgers University, 84 Joyce Kilmer Ave., Piscataway.

December 13th, 2006, 04:35 PM
Corzine puts conditions on tax credit
Governor insists on comptroller's office and 4% cap on future property levy increases

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday he is unlikely to approve the 20 percent property tax credit lawmakers favor unless the Legislature first adopts other reforms, like a state comptroller's office and a 4 percent limit on future property tax increases.

"If I don't see the elements that give me confidence that we have the ability to sustain these over a period of time, we will hold up a tax credit program," Corzine said to reporters after a speech to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association in Woodbridge. "I think those are absolutely essential. I would be very leery not to have those sustainability conditions in a program."

Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) last month capped months of special hearings on property tax reform by announcing a plan to cut 20 percent from the property tax bills of "most" New Jersey homeowners.

The plan has since been refined. Currently it would cost $2 billion and offer property tax credits of 20 percent to homeowners earning up to $100,000; 15 percent to those earning between $100,000 and $200,000, and 10 percent for those with incomes between $200,000 and $250,000.

Yesterday, both Codey and Roberts accepted the Corzine's conditions for passage of the credit program.

"We have no problem with that at all," Codey said.

"The governor is right -- the 20 percent credit cannot be enacted in a vacuum," Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) said. "Establishing caps and a comptroller are essential elements in sustaining any property tax credit."

Corzine said work on the reform measures could stretch into February, well after the Dec. 31 deadline lawmakers had set for themselves.

"I don't think false dates like Jan. 1 are as important as knowing that when we write a budget, which this year is due Feb. 27, that we have in place a sustainable system of property tax reform," Corzine said. The budget must make its way through the Legislature and be signed into law by July 1.

But Codey said the credit program needs to be adopted quickly so the Treasury Department can set up the mechanism for delivering it when property tax bills go out next year.

Lawmakers are preparing to consider a full slate of property tax reform measures tomorrow, the final time both the full Senate and Assembly are scheduled to meet before year's end.

On Monday, lawmakers balked when they got their first look at the reform legislation that resulted from months of work by four special committees set up to find way to rein in school and local government spending.

"We looked at the recommendations and found it was hard to find the number of votes necessary for passage -- 21 in the Senate, 41 in the Assembly -- to pass these recommendations," Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), a top ranking Democrat, told a gathering of 83 mayors, council members and municipal officials at a convention in Lawrence yesterday.

"Now, sadly we find nothing all are in support of -- except everybody wants a 20 percent property tax cut," Turner said. "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to do what it takes to get there."

The Senate has tentatively posted nine property tax-related measures for consideration tomorrow, including one (S-2) that would establish a comptroller's office to monitor spending by state and local governments.

Another (S-8) is a pared-down package of pension and health benefits reforms that follows Corzine's directive to limit the changes to elected and appointed officials. Thousands of teachers and unionized state workers had rallied in front of the Statehouse Monday to protest attempts to legislate changes to their publicly funded pensions. Corzine has said he will seek changes in contract negotiations with the unions.

Senators also are scheduled to consider amended versions of bills that passed the Assembly on Monday, including one (S-1) that would set up a special commission to target towns for consolidation, and another (S-10) to overhaul school board elections and establish county superintendents with veto power over local school budgets.

Both measures face opposition among Democrats, who control both the Senate and Assembly.

"Many objections have to do with the extreme powers extended to these super-superintendents," Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), said after the bills were discussed in the Democratic party meeting on Monday.

Local officials at the New Jersey League of Municipalities conference where Turner spoke also weighed in against the new superintendents.

One, Glen Ridge Mayor Carl A. Bergmanson, called the plan "one of the worst proposals, one of the most bonehead proposals to come out of the Assembly, and that is saying a lot."

And another said local governments will never merge willingly.

"The only way consolidation will happen is if it is ordered (by the state)," said South Brunswick Manager Matthew U. Watkins, a former director of the state Division of Local Government Services. "None of us are going to do it voluntarily."

On Monday the proposal sparked a short-lived revolt on the Assembly floor by lawmakers from Essex and Hudson County, who denounced the plan as an intrusion into local affairs. Though the Assembly passed the plan on Monday, it will have to be considered again if the Senate adopts a different version.

December 13th, 2006, 05:58 PM
God, NJ needs consolidation so badly. New Jersey has dozens of micro-cities which drive me nuts. Hoboken, Union City, Irvington, on and on. Very dense, tiny land area. Imagine how much these cities could save in police, fire, and school costs if they consolidated into larger municipalities like JC and Newark! It would be a cinch for JC to police Hoboken, why do we need to pay the Hoboken Police Commissioner big bucks?

Imagine if NYC broke up into 80 different cities, and you needed to pay 80 police commissioner salaries, 80 superintentants, 80 fire chiefs, etc. What a waste of money.

Of course it will never happen....I bet we'll make more municipalities by the time this commission is done thier work....

December 13th, 2006, 07:40 PM
My presonal feeling on how to fix it here in Hudson County is this; North Bergen take West New York, followed but Guttenburg, than Union City merge with Jersey City and East Newark become part of Harrison. I just got rid of 4 towns in Hudson County leaving Jersey City, Bayonne, North Bergen, Hoboken, Weehawken, Secaucus, Kearny and Harrison.

Here in Hudson County they already consolidated the fire departments of North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, and Weehawken into the North Hudson Regional Fire Department. So it has been done here to some extent already. I mean New Jersey has 556 approx. municipalites that all hold 8 million and change in population. Consolidation in some towns is inevitable.

Here are links to wikipedia on the North Hudson towns and on West Hudson town. Espcially look at Guttenburg and East Newark and West New York and how rediculous it is that they exist. I mean Guttenburg is only 4 blocks long!!!! Another example is Teterboro; the town has 18 people making it the smallest municiaplity in New Jersey in one of the most densely populated areas in the country being North Jersey!!! More people work at the airport than live in the town!!! Thats just absurd.!!!! Here is also a link to a map of Hudson County and just look at the northern section and look at number 10 East Newark and number 6 Guttenburg. Consolidate people!!!:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Hudson_County%2C_New_Jersey_Municipalities.p ng







And check out the mishmash that is Bergen County:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Bergen_County%2C_NJ_municipalities_labeled.p ng

December 13th, 2006, 11:56 PM
JCMan, I could not agree more. I go to college in Maryland and all services are managed at the county level. Prince George's County (where my school is located) operates out of Upper Marlboro, MD and has districts in highly populated areas around the county. In fact, my school and the City of Baltimore are the only non-county entities to have their own police forces.
I graduate next Thursday and will be moving back to Morris County, NJ so I hope to see major property tax reform over the next year. I certainly would not be opposed to municipalities retaining its own mayors and council members (the costs are rather minimal). However, boards of education, police and most services should be done at the COUNTY level! I like Corzine and I think his administration has some very good ideas. However, its up to the legislature to implement these plans. Unfortunately, most politicians at the state level are incompetent and are part of the "old guard." We'll see what happens...

January 15th, 2007, 01:09 AM
A state for sale: Assets on the block
Corzine studies auction of arts center, rail hub

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

They may not be as lucrative -- or controversial -- as leasing the New Jersey Turnpike for a century, but the Corzine administration is studying the sale of other state assets, including the rights to build malls along the Turnpike or office and residential towers over train stations.

Gov. Jon Corzine and his top finance officials are putting together a menu of assets that could be auctioned off to the highest bidder as alternatives to help pay for everything from property tax cuts to mass-transit improvements.

Details of the administration's asset review were described by two senior officials last week -- after Corzine gave "asset monetization" a high-profile spot in his first State of the State address Tuesday. The officials asked not to be identified because specifics are still confidential.

"At some price, there are buyers for everything, and that's what we're trying to figure out like mad," one of the officials said. "There's a small army of people working on this around the clock."

Possibilities including ownership of the PNC Bank Arts Center and the Atlantic City International Airport, operations of the state Lottery, and approval to construct Class-A office and apartment towers atop Penn Station in Newark, the Secaucus Junction rail hub and the NJ Transit station in downtown New Brunswick.

Officials are also looking at selling the rights to build shopping malls on land owned along the Turnpike as an alternative, perhaps more palatable to legislators and residents, to selling or leasing the toll road itself.

For nearly two years, many state officials have treated the idea of leasing or selling the Turnpike to private companies as the pot of gold they need. But opposition from the public and politicians in Trenton has been building.

During a town hall meeting in West Windsor Thursday night, Corzine made clear his agenda will require a cash infusion, but he has not decided whether to support a Turnpike deal he acknowledges to be "controversial."

"It doesn't have to just be the Turnpike, it could be any number of assets. We're in the midst of a serious study on this," Corzine said. "I can't tell people what it is we're going to do until we actually know the numbers. ... We're trying to figure out what are the best choices to do the things we need to do to make New Jersey the best place to live without creating undo hardship."

Corzine has announced he wants to spend millions on open-space purchases, school construction, the state's colleges and transportation projects. He also needs to find money to help pay down the growing state debt if he has any hope of freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars to make good on the campaign pledge to permanently reduce the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

To review assets, the state has hired Swiss financial services firm UBS, which has teams working on a range of possibilities that include several different configurations for a Turnpike deal, as well as the legalities of privatizing the Lottery (which was created by constitutional amendment) and the logistics of building commercial or residential developments at train and highway depots around the state.

A Turnpike deal could be worth more than $20 billion -- a number that would then be multiplied several times over once the government borrows against it. But it may well come with a political cost that Corzine and his fellow Democrats -- now in control of the state Legislature -- are unwilling to pay.

A recent highway privatization deal in Indiana led to massive Election Day losses for that state's GOP, and a return of Democratic control to the state House of Representatives. And in New Jersey, 54 percent of people surveyed recently by Fairleigh Dickinson University said they oppose a long-term lease of the Turnpike.

"The Turnpike is a tough push, there's no question, and he (Corzine) understands it," said Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), who first floated the idea when he was governor in 2005. "As for these other things (under consideration), I'm very comfortable with them and people would view them as being innovative and creative -- government is running a little bit like a business. And selling the air rights, that's a no-brainer."

But Sen. William Gormley said the Turnpike deal remains worthwhile, and, though he supports selling other assets, does not view that type of a cobbled-together package as a suitable alternative.

"I support the long-term lease of the roads," Gormley (R-Atlantic) said. "I don't think any of these things are impossible if they're tied to the truth. If he's going to explain that, he can do it. There was opposition to a sales tax (hike) last summer and he did it."

Gormley said the administration should be looking at development rights but should not use a "telethon approach" and then call it long-term reform.

"I don't think you can preclude anything because something doesn't poll well," Gormley said. "The ability to waive the unpopular alternative is gone."


Deborah Howlett and Joe Donohue contributed to this report.

January 25th, 2007, 09:20 PM
Senate narrowly approves key tax reform bill

1/25/2007, 5:10 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey homeowners inched closer Thursday to getting a property tax cut, but by a slim margin and after lengthy debate on whether the state was taking an effective step to control the nation's highest property taxes.

The Senate voted 22-17 to create a fiscal watchdog demanded by Gov. Jon S. Corzine as a condition for approving the legislation that would give most homeowners a 20 percent tax cut.

The vote came after senators argued over whether changes to the legislation would undermine the state comptroller's ability to ferret out wasteful spending.

The Senate also voted to redo taxpayer-paid benefits for newly elected and appointed officials.

Revising a bill approved earlier this month by the Assembly, the Senate eliminated requirements that would have forced the comptroller to investigate governments that spend at least $100 million per year, approve agreements with land developers and allow it to freely audit local governments.

Supporters argued the changes streamlined the post but still gave it authority to find improper government spending.

"This piece of legislation goes further than any other piece of legislation we have ever passed," said Sen. Joseph Doria, D-Hudson.

But critics said the changes were a blow to tax reform efforts.

Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, pulled her sponsorship of the bill and called it "watered down and emasculated."

Others argued against deleting the requirement that the comptroller approve agreements with developers, citing how such deals have been the root of state corruption cases.

"Without it, we are not going to get reform," said Sen. Andrew Ciesla, R-Ocean.

Corzine contends the changes still give a comptroller the ability to find wasteful government spending and fraud.

"I like the bill," Corzine said. "I think it actually is rational, will lead to a better allocation of resources. I think it's strong."

The Assembly will now have to reconsider the bill, with the Senate changes.

It is slated to do so on Monday, when it also considers the plan to give a 20 percent property tax cut to most homeowners. The average New Jersey homeowner pays $6,000 a year in property taxes.

Whether the Assembly will agree to the Senate changes was uncertain Thursday. Assembly Democrat spokesman Joe Donnelly noted concern with the changes on developer agreements.

"A number of issues and concerns have been raised," he said.

The 20 percent cut would go to households earning up to $100,000, with those earning up to $150,000 getting a 15 percent cut and those earning up to $250,000 getting a 10 percent cut.

Legislation to implement the cut will be combined with a plan to cap annual property tax increases at 4 percent.

Senate President Richard J. Codey said the Senate will consider the tax-cut bill on Feb. 5.

After the comptroller vote, the Senate voted 38-1 to approve a bill revising benefits for newly elected and appointed officials.

The bill, also set to be considered Monday by the Assembly, would bar newly elected and appointed officials from receiving taxpayer-paid pensions, bar officials such as municipal attorneys from receiving pensions and cap the amount of sick and vacation time officials could cash out upon retirement.

It wouldn't revise benefits for unionized government workers. Corzine is attempting to negotiate such changes in contract talks with state workers.

Republicans wanted to change the bill to make it illegal for elected officials to simultaneously hold more than one office, but Codey said the Senate would consider such a ban separately on Feb. 5. Nineteen legislators hold more than one elected post.

January 29th, 2007, 02:32 PM
Corzine: Tax cut will take time

With the Assembly prepared to vote today on legislation that would provide a 20 percent property tax cut for a majority of New Jersey homeowners, Gov. Jon Corzine cautioned property tax payers not to expect immediate relief.

"In the first year I don't think it will be a great break from the 6 percent to 7 percent (average annual tax increase), but then it should be moving down each year,'' he told reporters at the Statehouse in Trenton. He also reminded everyone that local governments still face contracted public employee wage hikes and increasing health care and meeting neglected pension costs.

Corzine said he can accept legislation the Assembly is also prepared to consider today that would create a state comptroller to examine local and state government spending.

But the governor added he intends to give a proposal that would set a 4 percent cap on local and state spending a thorough review when it reaches his desk. Corzine said he wants to review the potential cost and spending waivers legislators want to grant local officials under the bill. He said he can accept waivers on health care and pension costs as part of a long-range effort to bring them under control. "But if the DCA (state Department of Community Affairs) grants waivers on every item listed (requested), then we would have a cap that would not be useful.''

Corzine said he is not satisfied with legislation that establishes a state board to recommend local government mergers and shared public services. The bill requires the approval of the Legislature before two or more towns can move to merge and the support of voters in all of the involved municipalities. Under the bill there is no financial punishment for towns that do not merge or share services, something Corzine wanted to see.

Responding to criticism that he has not played a stronger role in the property tax debate, Corzine said he has taken part in a string of meetings with legislators and staff on the issue. He said his office is preparing "a thoughtful and carefully engineered school funding formula ... that meets the needs of children.''

The governor said all property tax-related bills that reach his desk will receive "a line-by-line review,'' an indication that he will not be quick to sign measures approved by the Legislature.

Contributed by Tom Hester

January 30th, 2007, 12:44 AM
From the Star-Ledger on NJ.com:

Property tax reform measures advance

The Assembly tonight approved a $2 billion program of property tax credits that would mean a 20 percent reduction in many homeowners’ local tax bills, and gave final approval to three other measures designed to reduce government spending that drives those tax bills up.

The tax credit program, the centerpiece of the Legislature’s effort to provide tax relief this year, touched off a four-hour debate that ran into the evening. In the end it was approved 71-8. It is scheduled to be considered by the Senate next Monday.

Other Assembly votes tonight sent to Gov. Jon Corzine a bill establishing an appointed State Comptroller to monitor public spending (A2); another to mandate pension forfeiture for public officials convicted of ciminal acts (A20) and a measure that sets up a special commission to identify towns and school districts ripe for merger (A15).

The Assembly also made last-minute changes to a pension reform bill (A21), sending it back to the Senate with amendments that would outlaw dual office holding for future elected officials and restrict the ability of professionals to run up huge public pensions for part-time government work.

“We are at the closing stages of a historic, first of its kind, special session exclusivly dedicated to property taxes,” said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden).

Republicans, although they supported most of the reform bills, declared the seven-month effort to rein in property taxes a failure. “We just promised so much, and it’s obvious we are going to give so little.” said Assemblyman Joseph Malone (R-Burlington).

And Gov. Jon Corzine suggested that homeowners will likely continue to see steadily rising tax bills next year, even with enactment of the reform measures.

“In the first year I don’t think it will be a great break from the 6 percent to 7 percent (average annual tax increase), but then it should be moving down each year,” the governor told reporters at a press conference in Trenton early in the day. Corzine promised a “line-by-line review” of the bills headed to his desk.

Contributed by Dunstan McNichol and Tom Hester

February 3rd, 2007, 06:02 PM
AG rules property tax relief plan is constitutional

The state Attorney General's Office has rejected Republican lawmaker’s claims that a $2 billion property tax relief program pending in the Legislature is unconstitutional.

The Legislature has “broad discretion” to provide tax credits under New Jersey’s constitution, Attorney General Stuart Rabner said in a ruling issued today.

Gov. Jon Corzine had asked Rabner to investigate the matter last week after Republican legislators warned it was illegal to base property tax relief on household income. The plan, facing final legislative approval in the Senate on Monday, is central to the months-long effort by Democrats to ease New Jersey’s record-high property taxes.

Democrats lauded Rabner’s decision.

“With this legal endorsement from the attorney general, perhaps the political games can end and the Legislature can get back to the business of delivering record levels of property tax relief to New Jersey residents,” said Assemblymen John F. McKeon (D-Essex), who is among the sponsors of the property tax credits and caps bill.

Contributed by Joe Ryan

February 5th, 2007, 11:22 PM
From NJ.com:

Property tax relief bill stalls on Senate floor

The $2 billion credit program at the heart of the Legislature's effort to bring property tax relief to New Jersey residents is stalled just short of the finish line tonight.

The bill (S20) that would shave up to 20 percent off most homeowners' property tax bills, and impose a 4 percent cap on annual increases in local tax levies, was put up for a vote on final passage in the Senate around 9 p.m. But as of 10 p.m. it had only 18 votes in favor -- three short of the 21 needed for passage.

An earlier attempt this afternoon to pass the bill was abandoned after two Democrats spoke out against it.

“It’s not just not good enough, it will be harmful,” Sen. John Adler (D-Camden) said as he led off about an hour of public criticism of the bill. “I think we should step back, take a breath and ask for a do-over.”

Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) joined Adler in denouncing the tax credit plan, saying it is unaffordable and ineffectual. “The people deserve better than this,” she said. “The people deserve real reform; not rebates and gimmicks.”

Meanwhile lobbyists for police unions argued that language in the tax-cap portion of the bill would unfairly require arbitrators in contract disputes to consider the 4 percent limit when decided on labor contracts for municipal workers.

Contributed by Dunstan McNichol

February 6th, 2007, 03:01 PM

Senate OKs tax relief

After some arm-twisting, the state Senate today gave final legislative approval for a measure that promises most homeowners a property tax credit of up to 20 percent. The measure promises $2.2 billion in tax relief, coupled with a 4 percent limit on the amount local government taxes can rise.

The bill was sent to Gov. Jon Corzine.

Today's vote came about 13 1/2 hours after Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) pulled the plug on a failed effort to win 21 votes for the package late last night. He tried it again this morning, and struck gold an hour after posting the bill for a vote.

“When the dust settles, what will be remembered is that we did in fact deliver on our promise to provide property tax relief and reform,” Codey said.

Delivering that vow, however, came with the help of several Republican senators who are in the minority in the upper house.

Several key Democrats - including Sens. John Adler (D-Camden), Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) Nia Gill (D-Essex) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) voted no. The measure gained steam with support from Republican Sens. Martha Bark (R-Burlington), Robert Martin (R-Morris) and Robert Singer (R-Ocean).

After that, other lawmakers joined in, and the measure passed, 28-10. The Assembly passed the credit and cap program 71-8 last week.

Codey, who last night promised to bring senators back to Trenton daily to vote on the measure “until hell freezes over,” said Republican support was gained "through various and sundry conversations.''

"They understand that for some of them, come November it would not be good to have voted against property tax relief,'' he said.

Singer said minutes before the Senate session, he was summoned to the governor's office to meet with Corzine and state Treasurer Bradley Abelow.

Singer said he was shown figures on how the many senior citizens and blue collar workers in his district would benefit from the tax credit.

"They showed me the impact on my district,'' he said. "They wanted me to understand the dollars that would be lost to my constituents."

Contributed by Tom Hester and Dunstan McNichol
Updated at 2:42 p.m.

February 9th, 2007, 12:01 PM
If they don't get us on the taxes they get us something else:

Electricity rates to jump as much as 14%

Utility customers will see their electric bills jump by as much 14 percent this summer.

That is the result of an annual auction where the state’s four electrical companies purchased a portion of the power they will need to supply their customers.

Rates will increase 10.5 percent for customers of Atlantic City Electric; 14.2 percent for Jersey Central Power and Light; 11.7 percent for Public Service Electric & Gas; and 12.2 percent for Rockland Electric.

The higher rates continue a recent trend that has seen a rise in energy costs contribute to escalating electric bills in New Jersey and the rest of the region, particularly in states where deregulation has occurred.

Contributed by Tom Johnson

February 22nd, 2007, 11:15 PM
In budget speech, Corzine promotes idea of cashing in on assets

Posted by The Star-Ledger February 22, 2007 12:15PM

Gov. Jon Corzine told lawmakers today that New Jersey can go on scraping together budgets that allow the state to continue "just getting by" -- or it can consider finding ways to convert state assets such as the Turnpike or Lottery into cash to pay for needed programs.

In his annual budget address to a joint session of the Legislature, Corzine promoted the idea of selling or leasing state assets such as the Turnpike or Lottery to raise money to preserve open space, rebuild infrastructure and make other investments in the state's future.

"The economic potential from restructuring the state's interest in our asset portfolio is too significant to ignore, whether that asset is the Turnpike, the Lottery, naming rights, air rights, or whatever," Corzine said. "Potentially, asset monetization could restructure the state's finances by dramatically reducing our debt burden, and consequently reducing debt service."

Known as "asset monetization," the sale or lease of state assets could free up as much as $1 billion or more a year in the budget long into the future, the governor said, by reducing the amount of money the state now has to devote to paying off what it has already borrowed.

"We spend twice as much to pay investors as we do to support student aid, charity care, prescription drugs and parks, combined," Corzine said.

Corzine said he does not have any specific recommendations for cashing in on state assets yet, but told lawmakers: "When we are ready, we'll be back."

The governor also called on lawmakers to "put an end to the midnight spending sprees" and adopt a more "open" process of adopting state budgets.

"We have tough choices coming," Corzine said, "and the public needs to trust we are working for them - not ourselves, not our friend, not anyone else."

Corzine said he is sending a letter to the Democratic leaders of both houses "outlining further steps to build accountability." They include deadlines so both the public and governor will have time to review the budget before it is finally passed.

If adopted, those reforms would radically change past patterns of late-night budget sessions in which lawmakers decorate the proverbial "Christmas tree" with hundreds of millions of dollars of pet projects, a process that is currently under federal investigation.

Corzine also demanded passage of "long-overdue" legislation to prevent officials from holding more than one elected office simultaneously. Such a bill was in position for final approval today but hit a snag when the Assembly and Senate could not agree on its wording.

Corzine, however, said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) and Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) "have made a personal commitment that a ban on dual office-holding will be passed and sent to my desk before it's time to sign this budget" at the end of June.

"If we are truly serious about restoring the public's trust in government - about restoring their trust in us - it's time to act on these reforms, sooner rather than later," Corzine said.

Unveiling a $33.3 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Corzine said it contains no new taxes or gimmicks, is responsibly balanced and provides "the largest increase in direct property tax relief in New Jersey history."

Compared to last year's budget stalemate, which saw state government shut down for a week, Corzine said some might call the new budget proposal "boring."

"I suspect that nowadays in Trenton, boring is good,'' the governor

Noting almost all of the new spending is devoted to property tax relief, Corzine said he was pleased he was able to reserve $100 million "for new initiatives that will have both short- and long-term paybacks."

They include $10 million for stem-cell research, $9 million for a new state comptroller to fight fraud and waste, and $5 million for autism.

They also include $20 million for a "consolidation fund" to encourage schools and local governments "to share services and reduce costs," Corzine said, giving credit for that initiative to Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden).

The largest single new initiative - $64 million - would expand the earned income tax credit program to cover almost 300,000 more working families living close to poverty.

"Considering our tough budget last year, I'm very pleased we could fund these modest, but important, initiatives," Corzine said. "Still, I'm almost embarrassed to highlight them because they are a fraction of what we really should be doing."

Corzine spoke for about 34 minutes and was interrupted by applause 17 times. (In last year's budget address, in which he asked for a penny increase in the state sales tax, Corzine was only applauded three times.)

State law requires passage of a balanced budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 in order for the state to spend money on anything other than essential services.

Contributed by Robert Schwaneberg

February 23rd, 2007, 06:45 PM
While we're talking efficiencies, how about a unicameral Legislature?

February 23rd, 2007, 09:32 PM
Bi-cameral legislature does seem to be a throwback to days of Lords of the Land vs. Men of the Earth doesn't it?

A bi-cameral legislature gives that branch a distinct disadvantage (all those minds to coordinate) in what is supposed to be a somewhat equal 3-part system of the Legislative / Executive / Judicial.

March 12th, 2007, 11:29 PM
Treasurer cites dire need to find new way for NJ to make money

3/12/2007, 4:53 p.m. EDT
The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's treasurer on Monday argued that the state's ability to pay for important but unmet needs could rest on its ability to make money off assets like toll roads, the lottery and state properties.

"New Jersey is perilously close to slipping into a state of fiscal paralysis," Treasurer Bradley Abelow told the Assembly Budget Committee.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine's proposed $33 budget doesn't rely on moves such as leasing the New Jersey Turnpike or other toll roads, selling the lottery to a private company, or selling development rights to state properties.

But Corzine — a former chairman of Goldman Sachs — has said they'll be needed in coming years and has ordered his administration to analyze options.

Such moves could earn the state billions to pay debt and free money for unmet needs such as public school and state college construction, open space preservation and tax relief.

Abelow said he hopes to present a recommendation to Corzine by the end of June on how to proceed.

"We can't put ourselves in a position where we fail to invest for an extended period of time or we'll put ourselves on a downward slope," Abelow said.

The state has to pay about $3 billion in debt for the 2008 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The state owes about $30 billion in total debt.

Abelow compared it to making a minimum payment due on a credit card.

"Just as a too-high debt payment inhibits a consumer from buying a car, paying a tuition bill and other household priorities, the state as well is inhibited from investing capital for building new schools, improving our transportation system, acquiring open space and other long-term needs of the state," Abelow said.

Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald agreed that the state needs to find unique ways to generate money. He didn't promote a specific plan, but said the state has no long-term strategy to meet vital needs that have gone unmet amid chronic state budget woes.

"We need to look at other creative ways," Greenwald said.

He blasted critics who have opposed the Democratic governor's consideration of leases and other moves.

"We should at least go through the intellectual exercise and analyze it," Greenwald said.

But Assemblyman Joe Malone, the ranking Republican on the Assembly budget panel, said leasing toll roads, for instance, would "mortgage the future for the needs of the present." He compared such moves to a bankruptcy sale.

"The idea is fraught with long-term risks for New Jersey's fiscal well-being," said Malone, R-Burlington.

The way to meet unmet needs, he said, is to slash spending.

Corzine's budget plan doesn't include a tax increase and features $2.3 billion to cut the nation's highest property taxes by 20 percent for most homeowners.

But the spending proposal includes no increased money for state college and public school construction, open space preservation nor extra money to help those without health insurance. It also doesn't fully fund public worker pensions and critics contend increased aid to schools and municipalities wouldn't help with property taxes.

On Monday, legislative budget officials said they expect the state to collect about $650 million less in taxes than the administration estimates — a 1 percent difference. Abelow said April income tax collections will provide a clearer idea and that the administration would rework its plan should that difference become reality.


We are the wealthiest state in the United States yet we have this problem. New Jersey for the past 20 years or so has had the unemployment rate lower the national average, women make more money here than anywhere else in the country, yet we have this problem. It's gonna take Corzine a miracle to figure this out.

March 15th, 2007, 06:20 PM
It was reported today on News Channel 4 that Corzine signed a tax relief bill but not the property tax relief bill, which will be signed in the coming weeks.

In the bill he signed today one of the best news is that it brings up the merging of towns throughout the state. I can't wait to see what towns are on the chopping block. 3 of the towns better be Guttenberg, West New York, and East Newark.

March 16th, 2007, 02:38 AM
Corzine enacts key parts of tax reform
Governor promises he will soon sign final bill, which includes credits for homeowners

Friday, March 16, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

Without much fanfare, Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday signed three key property tax reform measures into law, including a bill that creates an Office of the State Comptroller to act as a "watchdog" over government spending.

Corzine also said he would "soon" sign the final, centerpiece bill that was delivered after an often-contentious, six-month special legislative session on property tax reform. The bill, which has been on his desk for nearly six weeks, provides most homeowners with a 20 percent tax credit and limits yearly growth in local tax levies to 4 percent.

At that point, Corzine said, there will be reason to celebrate.

"We'll have a complete package," Corzine said. "We want to come together with a presentation of what has been accomplished. Looking at this piecemeal doesn't really do justice to what the Legislature and those of us involved in the process have presented."

Corzine had been hinting that he might not sign any of the tax reform legislation unless lawmakers delivered a bill banning the practice of dual office-holding. At least 20 of the state's 120 elected state legislators also serve in another elected office.

The ban on dual office-holding has been tied up in a dispute over language that would allow some lawmakers to be "grandfathered" in so that they may continue serving indefinitely in the other elected offices they hold.

But with a deadline for signing the comptroller bill fast approaching -- Corzine had only until tomorrow to veto it, or it would become law without his signature -- the governor relented and signed the measure. Corzine said he had an agreement with legislative leaders that they would deliver a bill in June, before he signs the state budget, so he was willing to give them a "second bite at the apple."

But Corzine warned, "We will have difficulty at budget time if the understandings we have are not in place. I've been pretty adamant on that."

The signing of the comptroller bill represented a victory for Corzine on one of the first goals of his administration. In his inaugural address 14 months ago, he called for an elected state comptroller with virtually unlimited authority to ferret out fraud and abuse.

The bill he signed is a scaled-down version. The comptroller is appointed, rather than elected, and some have suggested that the office's powers will be far too weak.

Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) withdrew as sponsor of the bill before it passed the Senate, saying it had been "emasculated," and voted against it.

"It doesn't get to the heart of the problem," she said yesterday. "At the local level, there are a lot of people with cash lurking and trying to open doors and this bill doesn't address that."

Corzine acknowledged that the property tax measures that have been passed were not perfect "10s." But, he said, they are vast improvements over the status quo.

"I'm quite enthusiastic about the comptroller bill," Corzine said. "It is significantly stronger than some might have thought. It gives us a lot of authority to do the things we need to do."

In addition to the comptroller bill, Corzine signed a measure that requires public officials who commit crimes related to their office to forfeit pensions earned from that job. He also signed a bill to appoint a commission that will study which of the state's 616 school districts and 566 towns would benefit from being consolidated or sharing services.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) said the commission is a "good first step," even if protests from local leaders stripped away the authority to force consolidations, as the commission originally was envisioned.

"One of the things that it does is raise the flag to the proposition that we have too much government in New Jersey," Smith said. "The significance in my mind is that we've started a process where the 800-pound gorilla in the property tax debate is being addressed."

Deborah Howlett may be reached at dhowlett@starledger.com or (609) 989-0273.

March 20th, 2007, 11:23 PM
Federal Reserve: NJ economy improving, moderate growth expected

3/20/2007, 3:23 p.m. EDT
The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's economy is picking up a little steam as the job market improves, and is likely to grow at a moderate rate through October, according to the latest report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

The regional bank reported Tuesday that the state's economy was on pace to expand by 2.4 percent from February through October, nearly double the 1.3 percent growth rate predicted in November.

Employment growth in the past couple of months, following a drop in the unemployment rate from 4.8 percent in January 2006 to 4.2 percent this past January, are key reasons for the improving economy, said Jason Novak, senior economic analyst at the bank.

"New Jersey's economy has been somewhat stable over the past year and now recently with unemployment numbers (rising) and the unemployment rate dropping, it has become stronger," he said.

The number of jobs based in New Jersey edged up by nearly 7,000 in January, to a total of 4.1 million. Novak noted jobs in service sectors rose by 1.7 percent from January to January, while manufacturing jobs fell by 2.7 percent.

The number of newly filed unemployment claims rose in January by about 8,000 to 46,584. The December figure, however, marked a two-year low. Novak said the number of initial claims has been in the low- to mid-40,000 range over the past year.

Despite worries nationwide over the cooling housing market, the number of permits issued to build homes dipped only slightly in January to 1,475 from 1,527 in December.

Novak noted that housing price appreciation was 5.8 percent in New Jersey last year — just under the 5.9 percent national rate — but prices rose more than 8 percent or more in some South Jersey metropolitan areas, including Vineland, Atlantic City and Ocean City.


On the Net:

Philadelphia Fed indices: http://www.philadelphiafed.org/econ/eai/index.html

November 16th, 2007, 09:36 AM
Plan 2.0: Toll hikes and debt limits
Governor offers early glimpse at his proposal to fix New Jersey's financial woes

Friday, November 16, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

Calling for "transformational change" in the state's finances, Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday his plan to raise tolls and pay down state debt will include new limits on future borrowing so New Jersey does not repeat "the mistakes of the past."

While offering a few more hints about what his "financial restructuring" proposal will contain, the governor said it would be another two months before he can reveal it in its entirety.

Corzine told a gathering of the New Jersey League of Municipalities in Atlantic City that any plan he advocates must reduce the state's debt by half and replenish the trust fund that pays for transportation projects such as widening the New Jersey Turnpike.

The "most important structural reform" he will propose, Corzine said, will "create greater public control over future debt as a means of protecting taxpayers from the mistakes of the past."

He gave no details but spoke colorfully of the need to make debt reduction permanent: "I don't want to clean the manure out of the barn only to have someone else fill it back."

Last night on a live call-in program broadcast on public television stations WNET and WHYY and on The Star-Ledger's Internet home, nj.com, Corzine said he believes he can restructure the state's finances without "excessively burdening" residents. "It's not going to be free. There's going to end up being charges on the tollways that will be troubling to some," he said. But the tradeoff will be much lower debt payments, meaning "we have to fiscal capacity to do the things that people expect us to do."

A new report on the state's debt burden puts the amount owed to bondholders at about $33.4 billion, a shade less ($150 million) than last year. At the same time, what the state owes its pension funds rose from $2.9 billion to $3.7 billion. That pushed the state's total long-term debt to $38.1 billion, nearly $700 million more than last year. The report, to be officially released today, was obtained by The Star-Ledger yesterday.

Corzine said paying off debt is critical, because it "is sucking the life out of the state's finances." The state spends nearly 10 percent of its $33 billion budget on debt service.

The low turnout in last week's election and the defeat of a measure to borrow $450 million for stem cell research were a demand by voters to restore fiscal "sanity" to the state, Corzine said, and he is ready to respond even if it costs him a second term in office.

"I'm not looking to play at the margins or do something that feels good. My interest is in transformational change of our fiscal position," Corzine said. "Make no mistake I am willing to risk losing my job if that's necessary to set out fiscal house in order and get New Jersey out from the debt burden constraining our future."

Details of his plan remained scarce, as they have since Corzine first invoked the term "asset monetization" in his speech to the league last year. In yesterday's speech he even referred facetiously to his "secret asset monetization plan," seemingly acknowledging that the delay in its release has brewed skepticism.

While he now prefers to call it "financial restructuring," the underlying strategy is the same: cash in now on the revenues from toll increases decades into the future.

Corzine refused to give a range of how much the state might expect to reap from the plan, or how high tolls might go. He told reporters after his speech any toll hikes would be "reasonable," and that some increase is inevitable because the state must pay for substantial road work, maintenance and its share of the proposed new tunnel under the Hudson River.

Later on the call-in show "Corzine on the Line," the governor said if his toll road plan is not adopted, a gasoline tax increase might be necessary to fund transportation projects. "I hope we don't have to go in that direction because I think it's very onerous relative to the alternative, which I think is user pay. And by the way, about 50 percent of the people who use the tollway are from out of state," he said.

Corzine's call to reduce state debt by half did not quell Republican condemnations of the plan. In news releases after the speech they characterized the plan as a "shell game" and a "gimmick" that would amount to borrowing money to pay off borrowed money.

"The governor's pledge to put revenue from a monetization plan toward debt reduction is disingenuous. Monetization is debt, and you can't solve our debt problem by simply shifting our obligations to a new account," said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (D-Morris).

Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (D-Hunterdon) predicted a tripling of tolls as a result. "He again today avoided the crux of the state's fiscal problems, unrestrained spending," Lance said.

The largely Democratic crowd at the lunch speech interrupted Corzine's 21-minute remarks a dozen times with applause and gave him a standing ovation when he finished.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) offered conditional support. "Our fiscal house needs an extreme makeover," Roberts said. "The governor deserves credit for taking on this issue and not biding time."

Deborah Howlett may be reached at dhowlett@starledger.com or (609) 989-0273.

April 9th, 2008, 10:44 AM
While we do have the highest median household income in the nation, and the second highest per capita income in the nation we also have this problem>>>>>>

Study finds NJ poverty rates the highest in the Northeast

by Tom Hester/The Star-Ledger
Wednesday April 09, 2008, 6:30 AM

The Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute today plans to release a wide-ranging report on the cost of living in New Jersey and its effect on the poor.

The study, "The Real Cost of Living in 2008: The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New Jersey,'' is expected to show that poverty in New Jersey is the highest among surrounding Northeast states and higher than the national average. The report is also expected to show poverty among female-headed households with children has grown worse since 2005.

Legal Services has found that 50 percent of income earned in New Jersey was held by 20 percent of the households in 2006 while the bottom 20 percent of households earned less than 4 percent of the income. The difference in median income between the richest county, Hunterdon, and the poorest, Cumberland, was more than $45,000 in 2006. Essex, Hudson and Passaic continue to have high poverty rates.

The report will be detailed at an 11 a.m. press conference at the Statehouse in Trenton.

April 10th, 2008, 04:45 PM
Tourists, and their spending, up in New Jersey by nearly 6%

by The Associated Press Thursday April 10, 2008, 1:51 PM

The number of tourists visiting New Jersey -- and the amount of money they spent here -- both increased by nearly 6 percent last year.

Figures released today by the state Division of Travel and Tourism showed that 75.2 million people visited New Jersey in 2007, up from 71 million in 2006.

Tourism spending rose to $38 billion in 2007, up from $36.6 billion in 2006.

Particularly encouraging was an increase of more than 15 percent in the number of overnight stays that tourists made last year.

But the number of direct and indirect jobs created by travel and tourism activity in New Jersey actually fell slightly last year, to 466,442.

That still accounts for more than 11 percent of total employment in the state, making tourism New Jersey third largest industry after pharmaceuticals and chemicals. One out of every nine New Jerseyans owes his or her job to tourism, according to the study.

May 12th, 2008, 06:33 PM
Sources: Feared state revenue shortfall now looks like a windfall

by Joe Donohue/The Star-Ledger
Monday May 12, 2008, 4:18 PM

Legislative budget analysts now believe New Jersey will end up with a windfall, not a shortfall, over the next 13 months.

In March, the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services feared the state might be facing a $134 million revenue gap for the rest of the current fiscal year and for the full fiscal year that begins this July 1. But tax collections in the current year are running well ahead of earlier projections, according to legislative sources. And that will help offset an expected downturn in revenue during the new year.

The bottom line: The OLS now estimates $370 million more revenue through June 2009 than it had projected, the sources said.

That number assumes current year revenues will be nearly $600 million above administration projections made in February. However, it also assumes revenues in the next budget year will be about $200 million below projections.

Both OLS Budget Director David Rosen and Treasurer David Rousseau will officially announce their updated revenue figures Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Budget and Approprations Committee.

Gov. Jon Corzine today declined to discuss the numbers in advance, or any budget adjustments he and Rousseau will propose.

"This is already a tough budget. It's already an enormous challenge, as I hear repeatedly on the streets outside the Statehouse," he said, referring to a rally protesting hospital budget cuts that was being held outside as he spoke at a Statehouse annex news conference.

"We have a responsibility, both constitutionally and I believe actually a moral responsibility, to spend no more than what we take in," Corzine said.

June 8th, 2008, 03:25 AM
Proposal: Voters would need to OK state borrowing

by Claire Heininger/The Star-Ledger Saturday June 07, 2008, 10:00 PM

After maxing out their credit card to one of the heaviest debt loads in the nation, state lawmakers may soon need voters' permission before they can borrow again.

A constitutional amendment that would require voters to greenlight future state borrowing is gaining steam in Trenton, reflecting public frustration over a perceived addiction to spending and the state's fiscal crisis.

The idea was embraced in January by Gov. Jon Corzine, who made it part of his broad financial restructuring plan. While that plan's centerpiece -- drastically cutting debt through dramatic toll hikes -- collapsed, the borrowing amendment quietly advanced in the Legislature and has a decent chance to make the November ballot, lawmakers say.

"I think our debt is so overwhelming that people are realizing it's a threat to the state," said Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon), who pushed the amendment for years. "I'm pleased, although we're not home yet."

New Jersey is struggling with more than $32 billion in state debt, the third-highest in the country. All but $3 billion was issued without voter backing.

Through the years, lawmakers and governors borrowed without voter approval for schools, highways, open space -- even balancing the state budget, a practice now banned by the state Supreme Court. In the budget year that begins next month, taxpayers will shell out $2.7 billion to pay off these debts.

The state constitution already says voters must approve borrowing, but lawmakers routinely have dodged the requirement by authorizing quasi-state agencies to issue billions in debt, and promising to repay it through the state budget.

That strategy would be prohibited under the amendment, which cleared an Assembly committee last week and is scheduled for a public hearing before a Senate committee tomorrow. It has the support of Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), but Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) hasn't made up his mind.

Codey said he needs to take "a long, hard look" to make sure it's "not tying a future governor's and Legislature's hands" should a need for emergency borrowing arise.

"There are times when you'd need to do it and do it right away and not necessarily wait for an election," he said.

Critics of the amendment say it would sap power from legislators elected to make intricate decisions, and turn complex borrowing schemes into yes-or-no issues vulnerable to voters' snap judgments.

"Simple bumper-sticker politics do not lend themselves to (that) kind of decision-making," said Steve Wollmer, spokesman for the powerful New Jersey Education Association teachers union. "It would really limit or potentially cripple the state's ability to make timely investments for the public good."

But supporters of the amendment say lawmakers have proven incapable of putting on the brakes.

"You always have to borrow, but you need to slow down the pace," said Hyman Grossman, retired managing director of Standard & Poor's Ratings Group and an observer of New Jersey budgets.

Corzine touted it as part of his financial reforms, but it got a fraction of the attention paid to the aggressive toll hike plan he pitched in town hall meetings. He acknowledges that part of his plan is dead, but says the amendment -- along with freezing spending and trying to match spending to revenues -- helps keep his promise of getting the state's fiscal house in order.

Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), a primary sponsor of the amendment, said the aborted toll plan did highlight the state's fiscal woes.

"The public is demanding that we make reforms like this or else they're not going to support anything we do to solve our debt problem," he said.

Corzine has drawn cries of hypocrisy for backing the amendment while pushing $2.5 billion in new nonvoter-approved borrowing for school construction. He says the short-term schools borrowing is a "constitutional responsibility" mandated by a state Supreme Court order to repair or replace hundreds of schools.

The court has also "been guilty" in enabling the creative borrowing, said Joseph Marbach, political scientist at Seton Hall University. In 2003, a sharply divided court ruled the state could continue to issue bonds through its authorities without asking voters first. The justices in the minority said the decision essentially killed the clause in the constitution giving voters control.

"The fact that we need a constitutional amendment to tell the court what the constitution says is also a little bit troubling," Marbach said.

Lance agreed, rejecting the idea of relaxing regulations for school construction or anything else.

"Those who wish to borrow always give a reason why this borrowing is different from all other borrowing, why we don't need to go to the people," Lance said. "And that's gotten us where we are."

Staff writer Kasi Addison contributed to this report.