Budget Pain Continues To Grow For New Jersey Taxpayers

STATE – Residential property taxes topped $7,000 on average last year, according to figures released by the Department of Community Affairs last week. New Jersey’s property taxes have risen more than 50 percent since 2000.

But the tax situation will only get worse for New Jersey residents under Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed budget. The property tax deduction on state income taxes would be eliminated for all but seniors and the disabled next year, while property tax rebates would end for those earning more than $75,000.

On Friday, Corzine released municipal aid figures for individual cities and towns. The governor’s budget cuts municipal aid by $32 million this year. While that’s a significantly smaller reduction than the $162 million he cut last year, it will not be easy for local communities to offset the additional loss. Taxpayers will likely be asked to shoulder the extra burden or lose government services.

Among area communities, Clark will receive $2,248,305, a $57,649 reduction; Linden will get $22,843,845, down $585,740. Rahway will see $4,856,418, $73,956 less than in 2008. Elizabeth will get $34,121,201, the same amount as last year.

The governor’s budget increased school spending, but nearly half of the additional funding is being held in reserve to fund a newly expanded pre-school program. The education aid increase was only made possible through the use of $1 billion in federal stimulus money.

Clark and Rahway will see their school aid figures remain unchanged. Elizabeth will get $287,920,485, seven percent more than last year, while Linden will receive $23,099,681, a five percent increase.

The governor seems to be hoping that New Jersey residents will voluntarily pick up more of the tab for education programs and state institutions; Corzine hopes to introduce another multi-state lottery – Powerball – to New Jersey’s current state lottery and Mega Millions offerings. If successful, it could funnel $40 million to state programs in the next fiscal year.

But lottery sales were down one percent in the first half of the current fiscal year, and it’s not clear if Powerball would actually add to the state’s lottery revenues or just cannibalize existing sales for the Mega Millions game.

Corzine’s budget also flouts a state law mandating minimum levels of funding for the arts and beach preservation. While they may not be forefront among the concerns of local taxpayers, the move could cost the state millions in tax revenue.

In 2003, New Jersey passed a hotel-motel occupancy fee tax, which would be used in part to fund arts and cultural programs. But if the budget doesn’t allocate $28.2 million, the tax expires at the start of the fiscal year. Corzine’s budget allocates just $24.9 million.

Similarly, the state’s beach replenishment fund is financed through a tax on realty transfers. If the fund falls below $25 million, the tax is eliminated. Corzine’s budget includes just $18.75 million for beaches.

Corzine said Monday that New Jersey citizens are welcome to post “constructive and realistic” ideas on his $29.8 billion budget proposal on his Facebook page or the governor’s office website, www.state.nj.us/governor/.

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