By State Sen. Barbara Buono
When leaders of political parties in New York state recently agreed to raise the tax rate on the wealthiest to help the middle class, a truly revolutionary concept was born — politicians putting the needs of the people ahead of their own personal ambitions.
In New Jersey, unfortunately, Gov. Chris Christie has set his sights on the national stage and repeatedly refused to consider the democratically led effort to create a more progressive tax rate because it would defy the rules of the conservative playbook.
This same steely denial of the realities of the working class is evident on the conservative side of every major debate taking place in Washington — whether it’s on debt reduction, extending the Social Security payroll tax or the merits of the Occupy movement.
Overlooked is the growing number of Americans now living in, or just above, poverty. In New Jersey, the number of residents receiving food stamps has doubled in the past four years. Recently released Census figures based on a new poverty formula show that nearly 50 million Americans are poor and the number of those living just above the poverty line is far greater than once believed.
What makes this new formula unique is that it takes into account government assistance such as food stamps, housing aid, subsidized lunches and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Once these factors are considered, roughly 3 million people rise above the poverty line, proving government assistance can and does make a difference in the lives of working families.
Sadly, those on the right have no qualms about slashing these assistance programs, proving their empathy extends only to the super rich while the plight of poor and middle-class families is viewed with rote disregard.
According to the Tax Policy Center, only 3 percent of small business owners are in this top tax bracket and many are not the typical job-creating small businesses one would envision; rather, they are hedge fund managers, doctors or lawyers.
People earning $1.5 million have saved an average of more than $130,000 a year under the Bush tax cuts and $8,900 thanks to Christie’s veto of the millionaires tax.
On the other hand, a family of four earning $24,343, the federal standard of poverty under the new Census formula, has lost $156 in Earned Income Tax Credit benefits at the hands of Christie’s ax, money that could go toward utility bills, doctor visits or groceries.
Another difference between what millionaires have reaped versus what working poor families have lost is what they would do with these allotments.
Families living paycheck to paycheck typically use any extra income to purchase much-needed goods and services, or vital health care. Any extra income received by working families not only helps them get by, but in turn, stimulates the economy. By many accounts, the wealthy typically pocket their tax breaks, generally doing very little with it.
There is an overwhelming tide of public support for asking the rich to contribute a little more, 64 percent of New Jerseyans to be exact, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. From an economic perspective, many experts believe that directing government assistance to those most in need will actually benefit the economy far more than padding the pockets of those already well-off.
It would be refreshing if, just once, Christie would put down the conservative playbook and follow the lead of his New York counterparts to join with Democrats in helping those who are truly in need first.
New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono is a Democrat from Metuchen representing the 18th District, which also includes East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, South Plainfield, South River and Spotswood.
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