The Bergen Record /

Citizens Groups Unite To Call For Tax Increase

The Bergen Record — Wednesday, March 26, 2003


TRENTON — With Governor McGreevey proposing unprecedented cuts in the state budget, a coalition of 75 groups plans to tell lawmakers it may be time to consider a tax increase.

Organizations representing a range of interests, such as the elderly, children, labor unions, and ministers, are concerned the cuts may be too much to bear and have suggested a temporary tax to raise revenues and take the pressure off.

"This is the widest coalition ever to say that taxes need to go up because we think the situation is that bad," said Staci Berger of New Jersey Citizen Action.

The Fairness Alliance will outline its proposal for raising revenues at a State House news conference at 11:30 a.m. today.

The budget proposed by McGreevey includes sharp cuts across all levels of state government. It also slashes funding for higher education, state-subsidized health insurance for the working poor, and prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.

The alliance's proposal has not yet been presented to lawmakers or the governor. McGreevey has vowed he will not raise sales, income, or corporate taxes.

Another plan by Assembly Speaker Albio Sires to create what he has termed a "millionaire's tax" on those who make more than $500,000 a year has received a cool response.

Alliance leaders declined to give specific details about their plan, but said it would be a temporary tax designed to get the state budget through the next three years.

"We need to look at tax reform in New Jersey even in the best of times, and this is the worst of times," said Jon Shure of New Jersey Policy Perspective, an alliance member.

The alliance proposal comes as lawmakers prepare to spend the next two months focusing on the state budget, which must be approved by July 1. Last week, McGreevey said he would press legislators to restore $9 million in arts funding.

Seeking similar relief, groups representing the poor held a news conference Tuesday urging lawmakers to restore cuts to Medicaid and FamilyCare, which provides state-funded health insurance for needy families.

"While we understand the severe budget deficits that Governor McGreevey inherited, the proposed FamilyCare cuts will force thousands of working poor parents, currently insured, to once again live in fear of needing health care," said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Association for Children of New Jersey.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, chairman of the health committee, pledged to push for funding health insurance coverage for the poor.

"Of all the causes before the governor asking for restored funding, I think FamilyCare has the most merit and is the most deserving of support from the state," Vitale said.

Alliance members are hopeful Wednesday's announcement will relieve the pressure to make widespread cuts. The tax proposal is the first step in finding a solution to the state's budget crisis, Shure said.

"This is the beginning of a process," Shure said. "It is the beginning of the effort to communicate with legislators and show it has diverse and wide support."

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