(TRENTON) — Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, on Wednesday as the Assembly Budget Committee opened its hearings on Gov. Chris Christie’s budget plan:
“Even before Governor Christie introduced his proposed Fiscal Year 2011 state budget, we knew this was going to be a tough year.
“Our nation’s economy continues to recover from the depths of a recession rivaled only by the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“Our unemployment rate sits at 9.8 percent.
“Times are tough, government spending must be cut once again and everyone knows it.
“Our budget problem is real and serious and action needs to be taken.
“But New Jersey voters had reason for hope.
“Our new Governor promised to cut New Jersey’s income taxes across the board for all taxpayers.
“He promised property tax cuts.
“He said eliminating property tax rebates would be ‘a declaration of war on the middle class’ and promised to fully restore them.
“But — unfortunately — as we start our committee hearings on Gov. Christie’s first budget plan, we all know those promises were quickly tossed to the wayside.
“What we have in front of us is a tax-laden budget plan that targets the middle-class, senior citizens and the poor.
“Gov. Christie has vowed to veto any budget that includes a tax increase.
“But as the testimony we will here in the coming weeks will show, he’s going to have to veto his own budget.
“Just about everything vital to working class New Jerseyans and senior citizens would be taxed, slashed or eliminated by Gov. Christie, whether it be property tax relief, senior citizen care, education and college aid, health care or help for businesses that employ our residents and drive our economy.
“This budget is — in Gov. Christie’s very own words — an assault on the middle-class.
“And senior citizens don’t escape this assault.
“It’s a budget that spares no one but the wealthy and does nothing to cure New Jersey’s addiction to property taxes.
“Under this budget, the largest property tax hikes in New Jersey history are on their way.
“New Jersey property taxpayers, here are the facts:
- $2.8 billion in lost property tax relief;
- 468,000 senior homeowners earning less than $100,000 who received $1,295 in property tax relief in 2009 get nothing this year under Gov. Christie;
- 36,000 senior homeowners earning between $100,000 and $150,000 who received $763 in 2009 get nothing this year under Gov. Christie;
- 278,000 working class homeowners with incomes below $50,000 who received $892 in 2009 get nothing this year under Gov. Christie;
- 230,000 working class homeowners with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 who received $670 in 2009 get nothing this year under Gov. Christie; and
- 108,000 senior tenants with incomes below $100,000 who received about $700 in 2009 get nothing this year under Gov. Christie.
“And let’s not forget these words from Gov. Christie: ‘The only meaningful property tax relief to anyone is property tax rebates, and I would not end them.’
“Yet, those numbers speak for themselves.
“Middle-income and working New Jersey families and senior citizens are about to get slammed.
“Property taxes are the leading concern in our state, yet for working class New Jerseyans and seniors, the worst is yet to come under Gov. Christie’s plan.
“But the pain this budget would bring to property taxpayers and its failure to cure our brutal addiction to property taxes is just part of the story.
“Despite the repeated Republican cries about taxes and fees, we have the Christie plan to increase income taxes on the working poor.
“We have the Christie plan to tax already-struggling hospitals by eliminating the cap on the hospital assessment.
“We have Christie proposals to more than double fees for life-saving prescription drugs for our senior citizens.
“We have Christie plans to charge higher fees to the developmentally disabled.
“We have the Christie plan to bar new applicants in the Senior Freeze property tax relief program that has helped so many of our senior citizens.
“We have a Christie 25 percent hike in business filing fees.
“We have the Christie to slash millions of dollars in business tax credits.
“Not only that, but we have the Christie plan to raid nearly $100 million from the Urban Enterprise Zone account and the Christie plan to raid $25 million from the state disability fund.
“By our count, Gov. Christie is proposing at least $2.2 billion in non-recurring revenue one-shots, or gimmicks, if you will, despite promising to end them.
“Maybe no cut has been as much-discussed as Gov. Christie’s plan to slash education aid.
“The Governor has claimed that his cuts will not impact children and their classrooms.
“But we’ve already heard about many districts that will be laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and eliminating extra-curricular activities.
“We’ve heard talk of merging kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, as if we were back in the 1800s in one-room schoolhouses.
“We’ve seen plans to escalate class sizes to the point where education quality will be threatened.
“The Governor has called on the teachers to agree to a salary freeze.
“While that could make sense and provide relief — and anything to ease the brunt of Gov. Christie’s property tax increases would be a good thing — a salary freeze would not eliminate the impact of these massive cuts to our children’s education.
“The Governor’s proposed budget also reduces funding to higher education by nearly $200 million.
“To put these cuts in perspective, the cuts to our senior public colleges and universities total $155.7 million.
“If only 50 percent of this reduction translates to a tuition increase, this would equal a $779 increase in tuition for each of our 100,000 college students and their families, despite Gov. Christie’s talk of being committed to higher education.
“We’ve heard the governor chastise critics of his budget as defenders of the status quo.
“But that talk ignores the basic fact that this committee, in a bipartisan effort, has led the charge to slash spending and reform government in recent years, and is ready to do it again.
“It also ignores the fact that this budget should have bipartisan opposition.
“After all, it was a top Republican who just last year said eliminating direct property tax relief was ‘actually a tax increase’ that would ‘take money out of people’s pockets and continue to drive the middle-class and senior citizens to bankruptcy.’
“So it seems we can all agree that with this plan, the Governor is merely balancing the budget on the backs of middle-class property taxpayers and senior citizens rather than making hard choices.
“The Governor has challenged the Legislature to do something different.
“As Speaker Oliver recently said, we will do something different, and by definition it will be better than what Governor Christie has proposed.
“Spending will be cut, but all options to avoid a budget that targets our middle-class and senior citizens will be explored in the weeks and months ahead.
“And as we begin this budget committee process, Gov. Christie needs to acknowledge that, despite his rhetoric, this tax-laden budget plan lacks shared sacrifice.
“The only thing being shared by everyone is the shattered remains of Gov. Christie’s campaign promises and the worry about the property tax increases to come.”
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