By Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver
New Jerseyans have heard a lot of talk in recent weeks about “shared sacrifice” as we confront our state budget problems, and it’s a nice sounding theme that paints a picture of everybody chipping in equally to carry the burden.
It’s undeniable that state spending cuts are needed, and that every area of state government will be affected. But one thing quickly became clear as that phrase became Gov. Chris Christie’s mantra – not every cut is equal, and not everyone shares the same definition of “shared sacrifice.”
We know that many cuts in Gov. Christie’s budget plan are painful and that spending cuts are clearly needed. Working our way through the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression will not be easy. Without question, the pain needs to be spread across the spectrum.
But some cuts are worse than others, such as Gov. Christie’s plan to force senior citizens to pay more for their prescription drugs and in property taxes. If allowed to stand, they would have a devastating impact on those living on fixed incomes.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services reported that under Christie’s plan, a retired couple living on a fixed income of $40,000 would see a $1,320 increase in property taxes. That analysis did not look at the Governor’s planned higher prescription drug deductible and co-pays, but the New Jersey Foundation for Aging estimates they would cost the average senior citizen an extra $430 per year.
Essentially, the Governor’s budget would be a nearly $1,800 tax increase on seniors. But according to the OLS study, the Governor’s budget would also reward a family making $1.2 million with a tax cut of $11,598.
Democrats are prepared to work with the governor to solve our state’s problems. But we will not do so at the expense of our senior citizens – especially poor and middle-class seniors who would be asked by Gov. Christie to carry a burden so heavy it could push many into poverty – while the very wealthiest get a windfall.
The Democratic plan to protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents calls for a one-year income tax surcharge on the 16,000 New Jerseyans with taxable incomes of at least $1 million. The surcharge would raise about $630 million and eliminate Christie’s plans to force senior citizens to pay higher prescription drug costs and property taxes.
This is a compassionate approach that allows the shared sacrifice of our most fortunate 16,000 residents to help more than 600,000 senior and disabled citizens who struggle to pay for medication and keep their homes. This plan spreads the pain and protects our most vulnerable.
Under our plan:
* The income tax rate on those with taxable incomes of $1 million and more would be temporarily restored from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent.
* Christie’s plan to charge a new $310 deductible to 105,000 senior and disabled citizens in the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled prescription drug program and 23,000 senior citizens enrolled in the Senior Gold prescription drug program would be eliminated.
* Christie’s plan to more than double prescription drug co-payments on those senior and disabled citizens would be eliminated.
* Property tax rebate checks for more than 600,000 senior homeowners and tenants would be restored to last year’s levels, providing as much as $1,295 to senior and disabled residents.
We’ve heard Gov. Christie vow over and over again that he is going to veto any tax increase because it would stifle job creation. But by limiting the surcharge only to taxable incomes of at least $1 million, we would shield the thousands of small business owners New Jersey will be relying upon to help rebuild our economy. If he were to make good on his veto threats, the Governor would not be protecting small business, but the multi-millionaire corporate titans, bankers and hedge-fund traders whose actions led to the recent recession.
From day one, the Governor’s plan to protect the rich from the pain being delivered by his budget has flown in the face of both common sense and common decency. This plan re-centers our priorities and steers us in a more caring direction for the betterment of seniors and the disabled.
Senate President Sweeney represents the 3rd Legislative District in Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties.
Assembly Speaker Oliver represents the 34th Legislative District in Essex and Passaic counties.
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