Philadelphia Inquirer

Groups: Raise Taxes On Rich, Save Funding

Gov. McGreevey is standing by his plan to close the budget gap. The Fairness Alliance fears "pain"

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Thursday, March 27, 2003

By Mitch Lipka
Inquirer Trenton Bureau

TRENTON — Taking a page from Robin Hood, a collection of 79 groups yesterday announced a plan to take from the rich and give to the poor.

Leaders of the so-called Fairness Alliance said at a Statehouse news conference that they hope to persuade the legislature and governor to raise income taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens. Their plan, they said, would add nearly $1 billion to the state coffers and ease the effects of Gov. McGreevey's budget cuts on the poor, elderly and otherwise disadvantaged.

"It's a budget that will inflict unbearable pain on countless numbers of people," said the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey and a member of the alliance.

The alliance was organized by two liberal groups, New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Policy Perspective. They have rallied the state's League of Municipalities, teachers and principals, and a cluster of trade unions with a collection of other interest groups to join the fight.

Other members include the New Jersey School Boards Association, the Gray Panthers of South Jersey, the NAACP, Catholic Charities of Trenton, and the Alliance for Disabled in Action.

Cuts in the governor's budget would cost some working poor their health insurance and would end numerous social-service programs. The group contended that unless more was done to get state money to schools and municipalities, lower-income people would collapse under the weight of swelling property taxes.

Since McGreevey announced cuts to close what he said was a $5 billion gap between projected spending and projected revenue, special-interest groups have been pleading to get back their share of the pie.

The alliance proposes to boost taxes on 50,000 New Jersey households - about 2 percent of taxpayers - and collect nearly $1 billion a year for the next three years. At the same time, it wants to drop 230,000 of the lowest-income households from the tax rolls.

The state's top tax rate of 6.37 percent would rise to 7.5 percent on family income over $400,000, to 8.5 percent over $600,000, and to 9.5 percent over $1 million.

The plan is more aggressive than the millionaires' tax offered by Assembly Speaker Albio Sires (D., Hudson). He proposed raising the rate to 8 percent on those who make more than $1 million with the hope of generating more than $400 million a year.

But Sires, who said support for his plan was shaky in the Assembly and virtually nonexistent in the Senate, was heartened by the emergence of the group.

"It makes me feel like I was not the only one trying to promote this and trying to resolve the deficit that we have here," Sires said in an interview. "We need more groups like this speaking up on this issue."

But McGreevey has made plain that he won't use an income-tax increase to soften the blow of the budget cuts.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News