Daily Archives: April 18, 2011

>As A Matter Of Fact…State pleads poverty to reduce tax credits for working families, but has enough to provide tax credits for corporations

>April 18th, 2011

For working families struggling to make ends meet, the state Earned Income Tax Credit is a necessity, and the Christie Administration’s 25 percent reduction in the credit this year for about a half million New Jersey families is a devastating increase in the taxes they owe.

Today, on tax day, it’s important to note that a parent with two children working full time at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (about $15,000 a year) will owe $300 more in taxes – or more than a week’s wages.

These are the same families who are also being targeted for other cuts in services that are essential to their independence. Last year about 48,000 uninsured parents who received the state EITC were denied health coverage through NJFamilyCare. That number is expected to rise to 92,000 parents this year.

It is getting to the point in New Jersey where, for many marginal families, it simply doesn’t pay to work. Aside from stripping those working families of their independence, it creates an even greater cost to the state.

The governor’s favorite rock star, Bruce Springsteen, recently cited a Legal Services of New Jersey report in a letter to the Asbury Park Press, writing, “the cuts are eating away at the lower edges of the middle class, not just those already classified as in poverty, and are likely to continue to get worse over the next few years.” The census data backs up his assertion. From 2005 to 2009 lower income groups increased, the middle class shrank and the number of wealthier people increased in New Jersey. Economics plays a role in this, but so does state policy.

This cutback in tax credits for working families comes even as the Christie administration and the Legislature are expanding tax credits for corporations in New Jersey.

For example, last month the state awarded Campbell Soup a $41 million tax credit to renovate its corporate headquarters, move 49 jobs from Cherry Hill to Camden and hire 50 new employees at the Camden site over the next 10 years. The credit includes $6.3 million for new furniture. Campbell qualifies for the subsidy, officially called the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit, which is aimed at redeveloping urban centers, because its offices are within a mile of the Walter Rand Transportation Center.

The total cost to the state to fund that tax credit to Campbell Soup is nearly as much as the $45 million in savings gained by reducing the state EITC.

So who needs this help the most, one of the largest corporation in America or working New Jerseyans who can barely make ends meet to support their children? It’s unfortunate example of why the state needs a more balanced approach — one that doesn’t focus only on cuts in services, but also balances the demand for shared sacrifice fairly between working families and giant corporations.

Interested in learning more about the Earned Income Tax Credit? Check out this piece by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

A Hand Up: How State Earned Income Tax Credits Help Working Families Escape Poverty in 2011

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Filed under As a Matter of Fact, blog, Bruce Springsteen, corporate tax breaks, Earned Income Tax Credit, Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJFamilyCare, poverty

>Many Possible Reasons Behind Brightbill’s Decision Not To Seek Re-Election in Middletown

>It’s been nearly a week now since Middletown Deputy Mayor Pam Brightbill announced that she wouldn’t seek another term on the Middletown Township Committee.

The news came as a shock to many, including Board of Education member Joan Minnues, who has worked closely with Brightbill over the years putting together events such as the Great Race and Project Prom. According to Minnues, who I spoke to briefly at the April 14th Board of Education Candidates Forum at Harmony School, Brightbill’s decision to step down from the Township Committee was a complete shock. She had told me that she speaks to Pam Brightbill often and had just spoken to her the day before the announcement and Pam gave her no indication of her desire to step down, It was a little out of left field.
So was this a last minute personal decision by our two-time Deputy Mayor in order for her to spend more time with her family and other endeavors or something more?
Those of us that have been keeping an eye on Town Hall have speculated privately for some time that Pam Brightbill was on the way out.
Her frequent meltdowns on the dais are legendary and her arrogant, self-serving display in front of the audience for the February 16th Library Board of Trustees meeting, where she squealed her dismay at board members for not sending her emails or keeping her “in the loop”, when it was her that had appointed many of them to their positions, made many mouths drop wide open in disbelief through out the audience that night, didn’t help matters.
But what really started the speculation flying about Brightbill was her near total meltdown during Committee Comments back at the September 20th, 2010 Township Committee meeting (audio below). At that meeting, she vented angrily at Township Administrator Tony Mercantante, for his lack of follow-up on many issues along with a total lack of communication between Mercantante, the Townships Committee and other various boards and commissions that she was serving on.
That type of public outburst between an elected Middletown GOP Township Committee member and a fellow Middletown GOP appointed official, must have caused just as much disbelief in the rank and file Republicans as it did to those us on the other side. After all, it’s a cardinal sin to air dirty laundry out to dry in front of the public, in such a manner.
I think it was becoming evident to the leaders of the Middletown Republican Party that Pam Brightbill was becoming a problem to them and they wanted her off the ticket before she caused any real damage to their chances of winning this year’s election.

The audio clip from the September meeting (above), runs 17 minutes long. It is fascinating to hear the desperate tone in Brightbill’s voice when she is reprimanding/pleading with Administrator Tony Mercantante for better communication while discussing many other issues haphazardly thrown in.

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Filed under Deputy Mayor, Middletown Republicans, Middletown Township Committee, Pamela Brightbill, re-election bid

>Middletown Library’s $500,000 Forfeiture Is Not a Done Deal

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by guest blogger Linda Baum

By now you’ve probably heard that, under heavy pressure from the Town Committee, the Library Board agreed to give nearly $500,000 of Library funds to the Township. I attended the Board meeting on 4/13/11 and learned that there are still issues to be resolved before the money can be transferred. My meeting notes were included in Mike’s 4/15/11 post. Those notes tell you the “what and when”, but there was much more to what transpired.

As Mike mentioned, the $500K transfer cannot be finalized until the State Library approves the deal, and there are a number of specific requirements that must first be met. Among these is the formation of a strategic plan that includes focus group feedback. My understanding is that ordinarily a strategic plan doesn’t have to involve focus groups. However, they are required in this case.

The Library Board last did a strategic plan in 2004 for the 3-5 year period going forward. That plan is now outdated. Per Library Director Susan O’Neal, work toward a new strategic plan began in 2009 but was not completed for lack of time and resources to devote to it. She feels strongly that a meaningful strategic plan is necessary and she expressed that opinion to the Board.

Committeeman Settembrino, who was clearly planted on the Board to see to the Town’s interests and not the Library’s, pressed for a quick finish. He insisted on a hurried approach that uses outdated data and places the burden of running focus groups on Library staff. With a quick switch of hats, he outright rejected a suggestion that the Town pay for an outside consultant to run the focus groups. (And why shouldn’t the Town pay? After all, the Town benefits because the work is for the sole purpose of finalizing the transfer.) I was stunned that Settembrino was allowed to unilaterally dismiss such a reasonable idea. I feel the Board should have required that the suggestion be presented to the Town Committee before any decision was made.

Ms. O’Neal stated that it would be inappropriate for Library staff to be involved in the focus group surveys because the standards established by the State Library specifically direct Library staff to offer guidance, but not to formulate the plan. Staffers’ involvement would also affect the quality of results, compromising the Board’s own standards. Add to the list that Susan’s time and that of other Library staff is stretched too thin already. She made a strong point that the failure to complete work started in 2009 is evidence that the help of an outside professional is needed.

Just as soon as Susan finished speaking, Settembrino made a motion for her to oversee all work.

Unfortunately, he got his way. A resolution was passed to handle the work internally, and a completion date of May 30th was set.

As part of that whole discussion, there was heated back and forth about the timing of the transfer. Kevin grilled Susan about what she was told by CFO Nick Trasente and Administrator Tony Mercantante about when they wanted the money. She told him that it was out of her hands, that the Board was required to meet the terms of the State Librarian, not the time table of the Town Committee. (The Town Committee should be well aware of that because the transfer requirements are clearly spelled out in official documents.)

In a comment to Mike’s 4/15/11 post, it was mentioned that the money doesn‘t have to be transferred right away to be included in the Town’s 2011 budget(Anon 4/16/11@8:51 pm). That makes sense. So if the delay won’t affect budget finalization, why the push to get the cash now versus at the end of the summer? That’s a question we should be asking.

Mr. Settembrino again appeared to be acting on the Town’s behalf when he pushed for early preparation of the Library’s 2012 draft budget, which already is done many months ahead of the Town’s. (In fact, if history is any indicator, the Town’s 2012 draft budget won’t be done ‘till well into 2012.) Ms. O’Neal and the other Board members pointed out that the usual October preparation of the Library’s budget has never presented a problem before – there has always been plenty of time for review. But Settembrino wanted it done sooner. He appeared to be setting the stage for the next raid. As I listened, my mouth fell open.

In the days following the meeting, I came by some additional information. Did you know that Town Committee members Pam Brightbill and Gerry Scharfenberger attended Library Board meetings in 2010 to lay the groundwork for the current grab? On the sideline, the Town’s attorney, Brian Nelson, lobbied for the law change that would allow them to move forward with their attack.

In response to those early overtures, last year the Library Board formally requested information from the Township. They received no reply.

You may have heard recently that the State Department of Community Affairs has required the Township to complete a corrective action plan for disparities found in its 2009 audit. I feel this is something we should be looking at much more closely.

There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Kevin Settembrino, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, State Librarian, strategic plan, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal