Pre-emptive strike against more NJ rebate cuts

May 5, 2008 3:07:26 PM PDT
A pre-emptive strike is launched against the possibility of additional cuts to New Jersey's property tax rebates. AARP New Jersey on Monday decried talk of more cuts to state-funded rebates that help homeowners combat the state's highest-in-the-nation property taxes, which average $6,800 per homeowner and are twice the national average.

"There are fundamental flaws in the state's property tax system, and until those are resolved we cannot falsely balance the budget on the backs of the people struggling to pay their property taxes," said Marilyn Askin of AARP New Jersey.

Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine proposed eliminating rebates for households earning more than $150,000 to help slash spending amid budget troubles.

Under his proposal, households earning up to $100,000 would still get rebates averaging $1,115, while those making between $100,000 and $150,000 would get $665 after getting $960 last year. Renter rebates would drop from as much as $350 to $80, while senior and disabled citizens would still receive $1,266.

Senate President Richard J. Codey has suggested the state should consider eliminating rebates for households earning more than $100,000 as they seek alternatives to some of Corzine's $2.7 billion in proposed cuts.

Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden, haven't endorsed that idea.

"The governor has been very clear on this issue - the government should take the hits, not the taxpayers," Corzine spokesman Jim Gardner said.

Roberts said taxpayers still need immediate relief as other reform efforts take time to work.

"In my view, cutting property tax relief should be the very last thing the Legislature looks to do in this tough budget year," Roberts said.

AARP New Jersey spokesman Douglas Johnston said rebates, as currently proposed, would not compensate for increases in property taxes, inflation and costs such as gas, utilities and food, or for proposed new and increased co-payments for Medicaid and a senior citizen drug program.

Corzine, speaking on CNBC Monday, agreed New Jersey's budget troubles rank among the nation's worst.

"We've had about 20 years of fiscal mismanagement," Corzine said. "We got ourselves in a bad structural place and you throw in a recession."

He continued defending state plans to give a California-based stem cell research company $589,000 in state grants to create 12 new jobs in the next decade. Some have criticized the move as the state weighs budget cuts.

"We ought to invest in our kids and we ought to invest in our research universities and we ought to invest in the things that will lay an economic future for our folks," Corzine said.