NJ Treasurer pushes back against budget critics

Treasurer David Rousseau fought back today against Republican criticism of the Corzine administration's plans to cut property tax rebates and raise taxes in the new state budget.

While several news stories (including ours) focused on the 500,000 people who will lose their rebates and the fact that some of the same people will also get hit with higher income taxes because they could be stripped of a property tax deduction, Rousseau highlighted the number of people who will still receive benefits.

He said 2 million homeowners will get rebates (counting homeowners and renters). Senior citizens will all get the same level of checks. Some 275,000 people under the age of 65 - those earning less then $50,000 - will also get the same checks as last year, which for them averaged about $900.

Another 230,000 homeowners younger than 65 who have incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 will get checks averaging $700, double what they got in 2005 and 2006, he said.

In recent years people earning up to $150,000 qualified for rebates, but the cut off would be lowered under Corzine's plan.

"The governor stands shoulder to shoulder with the property tax payers," Rousseau said. "Changes in the rebate program were crafted in a way to keep substantial relief in the hands of our seniors and families who are struggling most with the property tax burden."

Much of the attention yesterday focused on a $400 million tax hike that comes from eliminating the property tax deduction. Rousseau said the average savings from that deduction is $219, though the amount varies based on income, ranging from roughly $60 to $900. People making more save more.

In 2006, the last year for which statistics are available, tax filers earning between $75,000 and $80,000 saved an average of $268. Those same people could lose their $1,000 rebates this year. Filers earning between $150,000 and $500,000 saved an average of $525.

Rousseau challenged Republicans to offer better alternatives in a year when state revenues have been hammered by the recession.

"I hear what they won’t do, let me hear what they would do," he said. He said Corzine closed a $7 billion gap between revenues and projected state needs, including raises and inflationary increases. "We put $7 billion on the table, let’s see them put $7 billion on the table and not come in in June at the last minute with, I’m going to say it . . ." he cautioned before using an expletive to describe GOP plans.

Republicans continued their verbal assault on the budget through news releases.

"This governor’s legacy will be an unprecedented impact . . . on lowering the quality of life for middle class New Jersey. Higher taxes. Fewer jobs. Diminishing opportunity, and an increasingly unaffordable cost of living. Governor Corzine has abandoned the middle class taxpayer," Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R., Essex) said in a statement.

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