Category Archives: Monday Minute

>NJPP Monday Minute 1/24/11: Job creation or corporate welfare?

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Large corporations and small businesses will receive more than $800 million in tax breaks if the governor signs a number of bills passed by the Legislature earlier this month as part of its “Back to Work NJ” package. Much of the rhetoric associated with these bills is about creating jobs. Some of the legislation–specifically, one bill that allows unemployed people to receive training while they collect unemployment insurance–might have that effect. Many of the others, however, seem to benefit businesses rather than the unemployed.

Lawmakers might have a stronger case if they had followed their own law. New Jersey passed the Development Subsidy Job Goals Accountability Act in 2007, a bill meant to document the effect of tax breaks for businesses on job growth. The report is supposed to include the number of jobs created; whether they are full- or part-time; the salaries and benefits paid; and the number of current and new workers with health insurance. Unfortunately, the act has never been implemented.

Whether these tax cuts will lead to new investments in the state remains an unanswered question. There is no question, however, that in a time of scarce resources, the state stands to lose an estimated $568 million annually from the following six key business tax break bills alone.

Net Operating Losses (S1540/A3143)


One of the most costly of the bills allows businesses that pay their corporate tax liabilities as part of their personal gross income tax to combine certain losses and write them off against their income for up to 20 years. The Division of Taxation estimates the state will lose between $375 million and $400 million annually if this bill becomes law.

Under current law, gains from rents, royalties, patents, copyrights, partnerships and S corporation income are considered separate categories of business income and are deductible only against losses in the same category. For example, a business partnership that loses money in a given year can now only write off its losses against that partnership and not against any rents, royalties, patents, etc. it might have. This bill would allow the business partnership losses to be written off against profits of the other businesses. The impact of this is to allow businesses to write off much more of their bad business decisions for up to 20 years–well beyond the likely life of many of the businesses.

Single Sales Factor (S1646/A1676)


Changing the way states tax multi-state corporations has been on big business lobbyists’ wish list for a long time in New Jersey. Currently, New Jersey calculates corporate business taxes for multistate corporations based on three factors – sales, property and personnel. This bill eliminates the property and personnel factors from the calculation, leaving only sales. Multi-state corporations with significant property and personnel in New Jersey will benefit most from this; corporations that operate entirely within the state will be unaffected. The bill also establishes a special formula for airlines subject to New Jersey taxes.

The Office of Management and Budget estimates this bill will cost the state $39.2 million in corporate taxes in FY 2012; $78.4 million in FY 2013; and $98 million in FY 2014 and in future years, as it is phased in over three years. But OMB says the estimate is subject to significant fluctuations because a very few large taxpayers may account for significant revenues. When New Jersey switched to its current formula in 1978, the Division of Taxation estimated that 81 percent of tax benefits went to 200 multi-state corporations.

Closing Fund (S2545/A3353)


If the Closing Fund bill is enacted, New Jersey will have up to $50 million for grants to encourage companies to stay, expand or move to the state. The fund is aimed at companies that have received subsidies already but say they need more in order to close the deal with the state. The law would be administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the State Treasurer, who will be able to waive all grant criteria if they determine the project would significantly benefit the state’s economy. No job requirements are included in the bill. To receive a grant from this fund, a company would not need to hire a specific number of people, pay them a certain amount, provide them with health insurance or even hire them as regular employees instead of as consultants.

Garden State Film & Digital Media Jobs Act (S690/A2905)(S2545/A3353)


Despite the fact that Gov. Christie suspended New Jersey’s film subsidy program in July 2010 because he said the state couldn’t afford it and the fact that many other states are limiting their film and digital media credits, the Legislature has passed a bill that significantly increases New Jersey’s film and digital media tax credit. The bill will increase the credit from $10 million to $50 million for filmmakers and from $5 million to $10 million for digital media producers. The Office of Legislative Services estimates that this bill would cost the state $45 million a year. As long as at least 60 percent of total production costs occur in New Jersey, filmmakers and producers would continue to be entitled to a credit of up to 20 percent of their production costs (and 22 percent if those transactions take place in an Urban Enterprise Zone) on their state corporate business or gross income taxes.

According to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the cost of film credits generally far outweigh their benefits. The study found that most of the in-state jobs created from film-related work are part-time, temporary positions. New Jersey has commissioned its own study on the effectiveness of its film tax credit, but the report has not been released.

Historic Property Reinvestment Act (S659/1951)


The Historic Property Reinvestment Act establishes tax credits for the rehabilitation of historic properties – both private homes and business properties. Homeowners can receive a 10-year credit of up to 25 percent ($25,000) of the rehabilitation cost applied against their income tax liability. The business owners’ credit is not capped and can be taken against their corporate business tax and insurance premiums tax liabilities. At least 40 percent of the rehabilitation must be done on the structure’s exterior. If the tax credit is greater than the income tax liability, the bill allows excess credit to be carried forward for four years and unused credits to be sold.

A December 30, 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal profiled the conversion of the 10 buildings on the 15-acre Jersey City Medical Center campus, which would be eligible for tax credits of up to $87 million under this bill. The conversion of the Medical Center into luxury apartments and 45,000 square feet of amenities, including a pool and fitness center, is an example of what should not be subsidized. Such projects do little more than increase developers’ profits at the expense of public services.

The executive branch estimates the credit would cost the state $15 million in FY 2012; $25 million in FY 2013; $40 million in FY 2014; and $50 million in FY 2015. The Office of Legislative Services estimates no revenue loss in FY 2012 and a loss of $22.2 million in FY 2013; $29.9 million in FY 2014; and $37.6 million in FY 2015.

Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program (BRRAG) Expansion (S2370/A3389)


On January 6, the Legislature passed and Gov. Christie signed an expansion of the BRRAG program that provides tax credits to businesses based on the number of their employees in New Jersey. The expansion increases the amount a business can be paid for each employee working in New Jersey and sets up a complicated five-tier system that increases the subsidy amounts and duration depending on the size of the company. The credits now are accessible to any industry the state Economic Development Authority determines is desirable to maintain in the state. Before this expansion, BRRAG targeted the biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, high-technology, financial services, manufacturing, logistics and transportation industries.

The Office of Management and Budget estimates the expansion will result in a state revenue loss of up to $18.6 million annually, beginning this year.

The six bills included here contain many unknowns. It is possible they will create new jobs; it is equally possible they won’t. What is fact, however, is that all of them will result in a revenue loss to the state at a time when the state needs every cent it can collect. When times are tough, fiscal discipline should apply to everyone, not just those with a voice in the state capitol.

Note: Estimated total cost of all six bills is between $542.8 – $567.8M

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Filed under Bills and Laws, corporate tax breaks, Job creation, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ State Legislature, unemployment insurance

>NJPP Monday Minute 1/17/11: To make real the promises of democracy…

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Today, the nation pauses to honor the life and work of a true American hero, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Because Dr. King practiced the non-violence that he preached when he protested poverty and injustice, his ideas carry a special resonance for many of us today. We will hear Dr. King’s best-known line, “I have a dream” many times today, and we will gladly rejoice in those words and be uplifted by their aspiration.

We at NJPP would like to invite you to be inspired even further by spending 15 minutes listening to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety, as it was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. more than 47 years ago.

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Filed under equal rights, I have a dream, Martin Luther King Jr., Monday Minute, n, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Washington DC

>NJPP Monday Minute 1/10/11: NJ EITC: Governor’s No Tax Pledge Ignores Poor Working Families

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Amid the celebrating about extending federal income tax cuts to everyone in the year ahead, New Jersey is ringing in the new year with a substantial tax increase. Not to worry, though, the only ones who will be paying more in taxes are those who can least afford to pay more.

The state saved $45 million in the current year budget when it slashed a tax break given to families scratching out a living just above the poverty line. This tax break called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a credit to working poor families against the tax they might pay on the income they earn. The New Jersey EITC is calculated as a percentage of the federal EITC. The state reduced that percentage last year to 20 percent from 25 percent of the federal credit (a 20 percent cut), starting January 1, 2011.

This change will result in a $300 loss to a single parent raising two children with a minimum wage job that pays $15,000 a year. That amounts to more than one week’s pay. Even with the extension of federal tax cuts in Washington, working poor families in New Jersey will be less well off in 2011 than they were in 2010.

While the Christie Administration said the state could not afford to sustain the 25 percent credit to the poorest families in the coming year, the Governor and the Legislature have been willing to increase tax credits to major corporations by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here’s just one example of many. Through the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit program, the state approved three 10-year tax breaks that will benefit Wakefern Corporation, which operates the Shop-Rite chain of grocery stores. Wakefern itself received a $29.2 million grant in August and will benefit from another $15.7 million grant to its landlord. In December, it received a third grant for $58 million. Wakefern certainly must have been pleased to get these tax breaks. Especially since all it had to do was locate three warehouses in Newark and Elizabeth, which it might have done anyway. The state, on the other hand, will lose up to $103 million in corporate tax revenues over ten years if Wakefern fulfills the grant requirements.

Tax credits are set up to encourage certain behavior. The governor and legislators choose to believe that offering tax credits to corporations will encourage them to do what they otherwise might not do. They are even willing to give away billions of dollars with little proof that these incentives cost more than they benefit the state.

Evidence does exist that the EITC encourages people to work rather than accept welfare. By leveling the playing field for families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s $36,620 for a family of three in 2011), it encourages them to work. The credit is designed to help offset the high cost of living in New Jersey (which ranks fifth among all states) and compensates them for paying a disproportionate share of their income in regressive taxes, like sales and property taxes.

Gov. Christie pushed for and the Legislature approved a cutback in the EITC despite the opposition of working parents who depend on these funds to support their children and in the face of objections from advocacy organizations representing these families. It was the wrong thing to do at a time when so many poor families are struggling.

New Jersey has become a state that cuts taxes on millionaires and corporations but raises them on the state’s poorest working families. The EITC is a good investment for New Jersey’s workers. In the coming fiscal year, the governor and the legislature should find the $45 million necessary to help people help themselves.

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Filed under Earned Income Tax Credit, Gov. Chris Christie, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Taxes, working poor

>NJPP Monday Minute 1/03/11: Resolutions for a New Year

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Every year 40 to 45 percent of American adults make one or more resolutions to change certain behavior patterns. Among the top personal goals are weight loss, getting more exercise and quitting smoking. People also want to act more responsibly with respect to their finances and get out of debt.

Research shows that making resolutions can be useful because people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them. And even if only about 50 percent of people keep their resolutions for six months, it is still useful to try.

If people can make these resolutions and change their behavior, perhaps it would be useful for the state to do so as well. Here are some suggested resolutions to help New Jersey do better in the coming year.

Get Fit
Enact a fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of all New Jersey residents. Enact no new laws without a full understanding of the revenue gain or loss to the state and local governments. Do a complete analysis of who benefits and who loses when laws are changed. All of this should be done in a manner that informs the public and is based on fact. Transparency is critical. The richest taxpayers in New Jersey just received a tax windfall from Washington. If managing the state’s finances in a fiscally responsible way requires increasing taxes on some, the state should do it.

Manage Debt
Cut the hype; explain the facts. Poor financial decisions have caused New Jersey’s debt to grow measurably over the years. Since the 1990’s, governors and legislators have borrowed when they shouldn’t have; have failed to make pension and retirement payments; have expanded programs without resources to provide for them; and have cut taxes with no understanding of the impact. It has taken many years to get into this situation; it will take years to correct it. Public employees who plow the roads, teach children, put out fires and pay the bills are not the enemy. They have contributed towards their benefits; the state has not. A thoughtful plan of action for the future agreed upon by all is needed.

Drink Less
Commit to reducing gasoline consumption by 10 percent through a combination of increased fees on gas consumption and improvements in public transportation. New Jersey last increased fees on motor fuel consumption in 1988 while at the same time making its public transportation system one of the most expensive to use in the nation. New Jersey should expand the sales tax to include motor fuels; raise its gas tax; and use some of the new resources to make mass transit more affordable again. The benefits of this include less congestion on the roads, cleaner air, healthier people and independence from authoritarian oil-producing nations.

Get a Better Education
Over the last year, the Governor has engaged in an unproductive and ugly debate about New Jersey’s education system. Calling public school children “drug mules” does not get at the central debate about how to continue to educate New Jersey children and future leaders. Cutting $800 million in state aid from school budgets will likely increase class sizes without having a measurable effect on lowering property taxes. The governor, the legislature, NJEA, teachers, administrators and parents need to work together to address the problems that exist and fix them.

Get a Better Job
The state’s colleges and universities produce the leaders of the future and are critical to the state’s competitive business climate. Young, educated families move to New Jersey because of the state’s good schools and the high quality, well paid work opportunities provided throughout this region. But the state needs to be aware that it must effectively support its colleges and universities and the students who attend them. Education has made America a world leader. Investments in higher education are a much better growth strategy than tax breaks to corporations.

Help Others
Take care of the needy. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to its 2010 level of 25 percent of the federal credit, recognizing that New Jersey is a high cost-of-living state for working poor people. Expand services to feed the hungry, provide heat to low income people and care for the elderly and disabled. Reinstate the appropriations to family planning organizations, school breakfast and lunch programs, and after school programs that lost their funding under the current budget. Adopt a homeless animal. Feed the birds. Don’t kill deer and bears.

All of these resolutions call upon us to invest – in people, the environment and the state’s infrastructure. They ask us to listen and think and get the facts. They ask for civility and kindness. It’s clear we have to do better than we have done in the past. And that’s what resolutions are all about. If we resolve to do these things and we only succeed at half of them, New Jersey will be a better place.

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Filed under Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Year's Resolutions

>NJPP Monday Minute 12/27/10: To Insure Promptness: Tips for the Holiday Season

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As the holiday season winds down, many have said thanks by tipping the people who take care of them during the year. These are the people who take care of their children, clean their houses and cut their hair. They are the people who walk their dogs, deliver their newspaper and prepare and serve their food. And, because many of these people are only guaranteed a fraction of the full minimum wage from their employer, they rely on these tips to help them make ends meet.

Tipped workers earn less than one-third the $7.25 an hour New Jersey state and federal law guarantees to minimum wage workers. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay workers who rely on tips as a major source of income as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as the worker earns at least the full minimum wage when his or her hourly wage and tips are averaged over a full work week. The definition of a tipped worker is one who earns at least $30 a week in tips. That includes waiters and waitresses, bartenders and parking lot attendants whose wages averaged about $11 an hour in 2009 when tips were included.

The problem with a job that relies on tips is that workers can see wide fluctuations in their income, which can make it difficult to pay their bills. All but two states, including New Jersey, have established a minimum wage for tipped workers to help alleviate the problems associated with these fluctuations. Because New Jersey has not established a minimum wage for tipped workers, the state’s rate defaults to the federal standard of $2.13 an hour, a wage that was last raised in 1991 and is the same in New Jersey as it is in Mississippi. Imagine living in New Jersey on a Mississippi wage that has not increased in 19 years.

The last time New Jersey addressed the issue of minimum wage workers was in 2005 when it raised the wage for most workers to $7.15. At the same time, it established the New Jersey Minimum Wage Advisory Commission to report on the adequacy of the wage and the condition of minimum wage workers. The commission issued two reports – the first in December 2007; the second a year later. Both reports recommended that New Jersey’s minimum wage be raised (first to $8.25 an hour, then to $8.50) and adjusted annually to reflect increases in the cost of living, as has been done in 10 other states.

But New Jersey lawmakers have failed to act. Only because the federal minimum wage increased in July 2009 did New Jersey’s minimum wage workers receive a 10-cent increase, which increased the hourly wage to $7.25. Perhaps frustrated by the state’s inaction, the Minimum Wage Advisory Commission has not met since 2008.

Today 14 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than New Jersey does. On January 1, three more states will provide a more generous wage than New Jersey currently does. A minimum wage worker in New Jersey who works full-time 52 weeks a year earns $15,080 annually, barely above the federal poverty level for a family of two ($14,570) and less than the federal poverty level for a family of three ($18,310) or four ($22,050). Supporting oneself or one’s family on salaries like that is especially difficult in New Jersey which now has the fifth highest cost of living in the country.

Raising wages for the lowest-paid workers helps sustain consumer spending and will boost the economic recovery. Minimum wage increases go directly to workers who spend the additional money immediately – on food, rent, gas and clothing. Without action by New Jersey lawmakers, the value of New Jersey’s minimum wage will continue to erode, making it even harder for minimum wage workers to make ends meet. And, without the establishment of a statewide minimum wage for tipped workers, the people who depend on tips to pay their bills will continue to fall into deeper and deeper poverty.

In this season of giving, New Jersey owes it to these workers to raise the minimum wage; to restore its value; and to establish a minimum wage for people who rely on tips to supplement their income. The minimum wage was set up to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable workers. It’s time for this to actually mean something.

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Filed under hourly wage, minimum wage, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, part-time work, Tips

>NJPP Monday Minute 12/20/10: Deficit be Damned: Everyone Gets a Tax Cut Next Year

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This Christmas, we’ll all be getting a gift from Congress – two more years of Bush-era tax cuts. Never mind that Congress is paying for them with a credit card; they’ll square up the $860 billion bill with the Obama Administration down the road.

The thing is, the biggest gifts went to the wealthiest taxpayers.

A recent analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based public interest research and advocacy organization, estimates that the compromise plan agreed to between President Obama and Republicans in Congress would give 25 percent of the total value of the tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent of all Americans. The President had originally proposed not extending the tax cuts for those with income of more than $250,000 a year.

The CTJ analysis also estimates the impact of the compromise on a state-by-state basis. In New Jersey, that’s an average benefit of $443 for the poorest 20 percent of earners and an average benefit of $93,350 for the wealthiest 1 percent.

The compromise plan extends to everyone the current federal income tax rates for two years, cuts the estate tax to below the 2009 level and cuts Social Security payroll tax deductions for all workers by 2 percent.

Income Taxes
Federal income tax rates were lowered twice during the Bush administration, in 2001 and again in 2003. Although each act had its own legislative history and impact, the two are generally lumped together in terms of their effect on taxpayers and the economy. The two acts significantly lowered federal marginal income tax rates for nearly all taxpayers. Both were set to expire at the end of 2010.

The debate in Washington has centered on whether the tax cuts should be extended and who should benefit. The president’s plan favored lower and middle income families and allowed rates to rise on the wealthiest taxpayers. Congressional Republicans wanted the current tax rates made permanent for all.

Congressional Republicans prevailed-but only temporarily. The tax cuts were extended two more years, at which time they will be subject to another debate.

Estate Taxes
The debate on the estate tax centered on Obama’s effort to maintain estate taxes at the 2009 level, which exempts the first $3.5 million of an estate and taxes the remainder at a rate of 45 percent. The compromise exempts the first $5 million and taxes the remainder at 35 percent.

Payroll Taxes
The compromise includes a 2 percent payroll tax cut (from 6.2% to 4.2%) for all workers. That is significantly less than the president’s “Making Work Pay” proposal, which would have eliminated the 6.2 percent payroll tax on the first $6,450 ($12,900 for couples) in earnings. The impact of this 2 percent cut is greater on lower income earners because only the first $107,000 of income is subject to payroll taxes.

According to CTJ’s analysis, the top 1 percent of taxpayers in New Jersey with incomes averaging $1.8 million will receive over 30 percent of these benefits from the income tax and estate tax provisions. When payroll taxes are taken into consideration, lower and middle income earners fare better. While some of the tax cuts have boosted take-home pay for middle class families, the tax cuts for the wealthiest are poorly designed short-term stimulus and, more important, ineffective long-term economic policy. Increasing the take-home pay of low- and moderate-income families will lead to more spending and a boost in demand for necessary goods and services, which in turn creates more jobs. By contrast, tax cuts for the wealthy are more likely to be tucked away as savings, which is a relatively ineffective boost to the economy.

Many have argued that tax cuts for the wealthy increase the incentive to invest or create small business jobs, and that these benefits eventually trickle down to average families. But the economic record tells a different story. Of the 10 economic expansions since 1949, the expansion between 2001 and 2009 ranks last in terms of economic growth, national investment, employment and employee pay.

Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics estimates (see Table 4 in the report) that every dollar spent making the Bush tax cuts permanent generates only 35 cents of economic activity (permanent corporate tax rate cuts yield only 32 cents). Comparatively speaking, a dollar spent on infrastructure (investing in a transit tunnel under the Hudson River, for example) yields $1.57 return on investment; a dollar spent to prevent layoffs of teachers or police or firefighters yields $1.41; and a dollar to temporarily increase food stamps yields $1.72.

It’s too bad the Obama compromise will only boost paychecks, instead of lifting the entire economy.

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Filed under Bush Tax Cuts, estate tax, income taxes, Monday Minute, Moody's, New Jersey Policy Perspective, payroll tax, President Obama, Social Security

>NJPP Monday Minute 12/13/10: Great Expectations: Choose New Jersey

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“The companies that join Choose New Jersey contribute $450,000 and we expect a return on that investment.”

That’s a quote about the creation of a new nonprofit corporation attributed to John Bigelow, president of the New Jersey division of American Water, a company that has 2.5 million customers in 17 New Jersey counties.

The “return on investment” American Water expects is clearly lower taxes for corporations and, ultimately, fewer services for the rest of us.

Choose New Jersey is a new corporate-funded 501(c)(3) which is being championed by Governor Christie as the state’s cheerleader for doing business in New Jersey. Every nonprofit (and even some for-profits) envies Choose New Jersey because of its funding – 14 corporations have committed a total of $2.1 million a year for the next three years to capitalize the group’s operations. The chair of its board is New Jersey Verizon president Dennis Bone. The organization’s 16 board members are mostly presidents or CEOs of private corporations, almost all of whom earn million-dollar salaries. Nine of the 14 corporations currently have contracts with the state; four of them have received business subsidies totaling $216 million.

The organization is said to have its genesis in the transition team report delivered to Governor Christie by his Subcommittee on Economic Development & Job Growth.

The impact of the subcommittee’s report cannot be ignored. Many of the legislative changes on the fast track this month can be found there. What is compelling about this report and fascinating about what’s going on in the Legislature right now is that no analysis accompanies most of the policy recommendations. Democrats and Republicans alike have bought into the notion that reducing public resources by cutting taxes and eliminating regulations will make New Jersey more competitive. There seems to be little interest in the fact that less revenue means fewer public services.

Fourteen corporations have committed a total of $6.3 million to this nonprofit corporation for the next three years. This nonprofit won’t be providing medical services to poor people or after school programs for children. Based on the work of other corporate lobbying groups like the various state chambers of commerce, it’s unlikely to do research. It doesn’t seem to have an educational purpose. It won’t be guarding the state’s rivers and beaches from polluters.

What’s troublesome is the obvious and direct connection between the substantial corporate donations and the expected policy changes. As the quote above indicates, contributors to this nonprofit expect a return from their investment. Money does buy access and that’s clearly the point of this new nonprofit.

Following are the board members of Choose New Jersey:

  • American Water – Don Correll, CEO & President
  • Atlantic City Electric – Vincent Malone, President
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch – Robert Doherty, State President
  • Bethany Baptist Church – M. William Howard, Jr., Pastor
  • Healthcare Institute of New Jersey (HINJ) – Bob Hugin, Celegene President & COO (representing HINJ)
  • Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NJ – William Marino, Chairman & CEO
  • Laborers Union – Raymond M. Pocino, LIUNA VP & Eastern Regional Manager
  • New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group – Bernard Flynn, President & CEO
  • New Jersey Resources – Laurence Downes, Chairman & CEO
  • Novartis – Kevin Rigby, VP of Public Affairs
  • Prudential Financial – John Strangefeld, Chairman & CEO
  • Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) – Ralph Izzo, Chairman & CEO
  • South Jersey Industries – Edward Graham, President & CEO
  • United Water – Robert Iacullo, President & CEO
  • Verizon – Dennis Bone, President of Verizon NJ
  • Wakefern Food Corporation – Joe Colalillo, President

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Filed under Choose NJ, Gov. Chris Christie, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, nonprofit corporations

>NJPP Monday Minute 12/6/10: CORPORATE TAX CUT BILLS LACK FISCAL ANALYSIS

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Over the next three weeks, Democratic leaders in the Legislature plan to consider 30 bills they claim will “jump-start” the state’s economy and create jobs. A sampling of the first seven of these bills (all of the others haven’t yet been publicly identified) makes clear that “jump-start” means cutting corporate taxes and expanding already generous business tax credits.

Because much of this legislation championed by the Democratic majority is co-sponsored by legislators in the Republican minority, it’s abundantly clear that the bills are on a fast-track through the Assembly and the Senate. The legislation is likely to land on the governor’s desk for his signature by early January.

New Jersey has been down this road before. In fact, we’re still paying for earlier bouts of such foolishness.

In 2001, Judith Cambria warned in a report for NJPP that New Jersey lawmakers’ penchant for cutting taxes, borrowing at unprecedented levels and manipulating pension funds would lead to trouble. Among the problems she predicted: a bankrupt transportation trust fund, high debt and large unfunded retirement liabilities for public employees. Sound familiar?

Four years later, another NJPP report analyzed the cost of Governor Whitman’s sales and income tax cuts in the early 1990s. The report estimated the tax cuts cost the state $24 billion in sales and income tax revenue between 1994 and 2005. And the cuts weren’t worth it. For nine out of 10 New Jersey households, the sales and income tax reductions were swamped by increases in property taxes.

But New Jersey need not be condemned to a history of repeating its mistakes.

Lawmakers should carefully and publicly consider all of the legislation and they should require at least basic understanding of what the bills will do and how much they will cost. At a minimum, each bill should be considered on three key points.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

No bill should be discussed or voted out of committee without a complete fiscal analysis, known as a fiscal note. That note should estimate the revenue impact to the state (and to local governments if applicable). Particular attention should be paid to revenues that will be lost from a change in the statutes and how the state will manage those losses. Winners and losers should also be identified.

Take for example, A1676/S1646, known as the Single Sales Factor which is being considered by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on December 8. The bill would change the way New Jersey taxes corporate income. Single Sales Factor has been on the table before-the last time in 2008. It didn’t become law, in part, because of its cost. No fiscal estimate was available when this Monday Minute was written. The most recent credible cost estimate of such a change was made in 2001, when the Assembly Commerce, Tourism, Gaming and Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on a similar bill. At that time, the state Treasury estimated that switching to the Single Sales Factor would cost the state as much as $250 million annually. If that estimate hold true for this year, that’s 11 percent of the $2.3 billion the state expects to collect from corporations under the tax this year. All of those tax reductions would benefit large, multi-state corporations, like Johnson & Johnson and Verizon not small businesses operating only in New Jersey.

PROPER ANALYSIS

The stated goal of the bill package introduced by the Democrats is job creation, and clearly the leadership is willing to expend state resources to that end. But it is critical, especially because the state’s finances remain so precarious, that proper analysis be done to explain clearly how each bill will create jobs; how many jobs it will create; what type of jobs will be created and where specifically the jobs will be located.

This is not something New Jersey has ever done before even though it should have. In November 2007, lawmakers enacted the Development Subsidy Job Goals Accountability Act, which charged the state with the responsibility of measuring the costs and benefits of its business subsidies (bonds, grants, loans, loan guarantees, matching funds and all tax expenditures). The act required the state to produce a comprehensive analysis of its largesse to the business community by documenting the number of jobs created; the average pay and benefits for each job; and the number of workers with health insurance. The report has never been done.

POSITIVE PROOF

In March, New Jersey produced its first Tax Expenditure Report, which showed the state is losing $15 billion in FY2011 because of loopholes and exemptions in its tax code. The Tax Expenditure Report is useful because it tracks revenue losses from the bills after they become law. But it’s only hindsight. New Jersey taxpayers deserve proof — or at least reasonable evidence — that cutting corporate taxes and providing credits, subsidies and other incentives to businesses will, in fact, stimulate new economic growth and that New Jersey will be the primary beneficiary.

New Jersey is entitled to (at least) these minimal measures of transparency and accountability from its elected officials. For too long the state has relied solely on those who benefit from tax breaks and subsidies to tell them if the program was successful. The state must do better. And the members of the General Assembly and the Senate should embrace this opportunity to tell their constituents whether taxpayers are truly getting their money’s worth.

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Filed under corporate tax breaks, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ State Assembly, NJ State Senate, tax expenditures, tax policies

>NJPP Monday Minute 11/29/10: Christie Family Income Taxes: When 10.25% really means 6.2%

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In New Jersey, opponents of progressive taxation, including Governor Christie, argue that tax rates are too high. Indeed, just a month before he filed his 2009 tax returns, the governor said he intends to lower income tax rates within two years in order to stimulate the economy and make New Jersey more competitive with neighboring states.

But a full understanding of the state’s tax structure shows that New Jersey is already quite competitive. And Governor Christie’s own 2009 New Jersey income tax return shows the truth often isn’t as simple as it seems. Even though their household income pushed them into the top bracket of 10.25%, the Christies actually paid just 6.2% of their family income to the state.

Much can be learned from an income tax return, which is why the average person’s return is generally not available for public scrutiny. Many politicians, however, make their returns public during their time in office to prove they are solid tax-paying citizens – just like the rest of us.

Such is the case with the governor. The governor has made his tax return available for public perusal. The document is quite useful in illustrating how New Jersey’s marginal income tax rates work.

In 2009, the Christie’s New Jersey taxable income was $540,792, including $527,069 in wages from Mrs. Christie’s part-time job at Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street bank and brokerage firm. The governor, who resigned as U.S. Attorney to campaign, did not have a salary.

The Christies paid $33,619 in New Jersey income taxes. To most, that sounds like a substantial sum, but it amounted to 6.2% of their New Jersey taxable income, considerably less than one would expect them to pay given their 10.25% tax bracket.

How does this work? It’s all about the margins.

New Jersey taxes income at different rates as income increases. Many believe this is the more appropriate way to tax income than a flat tax rate on all income, but it can be confusing. Current rates for married couples range from 1.4% on income of less than $20,000 to 8.97% on income of more than $500,000. Married couples who earn less than $20,000 pay no income tax in New Jersey.

In 2009, New Jersey had slightly different brackets as a result of a temporary rate increase enacted by lawmakers. The top marginal income tax rate was 10.75% on income of more than $1 million; 10.25% on income between $500,000 and $1 million; and 8% on income over $400,000 but less than $500,000.

The 6.2% effective income tax the Christies paid to New Jersey is less than they would have paid to New York State if Mrs. Christie’s job were there; less than they would have paid if she had worked in Philadelphia; and about what they would have paid if they had lived in Georgia.

New Jersey, unlike some other states, does not allow for many deductions. As a result, the Christies could not lower their taxable income by the $36,866 in property taxes they paid in 2009 for their nearly 7,000-square-foot house valued at $1.8 million in Mendham.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed legislation that would have maintained the higher income tax rates on the state’s richest residents and tied those increases to the property tax rebate program. But the governor vetoed the bills because he said income tax rates in New Jersey are too high. So, the rates for 2010 reverted back to the 2008 level when the top rate was 8.97% on income over $500,000.

In effect, the governor gave himself a $2,151 tax cut.

Rather than arguing over whether the current 8.97% top marginal rate on the richest people in the state is too high, the discussion we should be having in this state is whether it’s too much to ask the wealthiest families, those like the Christies who claim a net worth of $3.8 million, to pay 6.2% (or 5.8% under current tax rates) of their income to support public services in New Jersey.

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Filed under Gov. Chris Christie, income taxes, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective

>NJPP Monday Minute 11/22/10: Giving Thanks

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This week, most of us will enjoy a fabulous Thanksgiving feast. Our holiday will be marked by an abundance of family and football and food, all in joyous testament to the good fortune we enjoy. Our tables will be set so full that by Sunday surely there may be recriminations over the monotony — if not the extravagance — of all the leftovers from a 26-pound turkey with all the trimmings.

We must indeed find time this week to give thanks for our good fortune. We must be mindful of the shared spirit of that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation, nearly 400 years ago, when the Pilgrims celebrated the harvest in community with the Wampanoag people.

And we must also recognize that these times are not plentiful for every one of us.

In fact, 24.1 million Americans are living in poverty, more than at any time in our nation’s history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The economic recession has kept unemployment over 9.5 percent for more than a year. Home foreclosures are at record levels. Homelessness is on the rise. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported that 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, do not have consistent access to a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

This lack of plenty is evident at food pantries across New Jersey, which are seeing a 30 percent increase in demand over last year, according to Anthony Guido of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. That’s all the more remarkable considering that the Community FoodBank assisted 1,600 agencies in distributing 35 million pounds of food to 830,000 people last year, a 45 percent increase from 2005.

“Times are tough all around,” Guido told WBGO radio. “Our agencies will give out the food as soon as we can get it to them. That means as soon as we collect it and bring it into the food bank, it goes right back out to the charities in need.”

The need could have been much greater.

Amid all the budget trauma in New Jersey, the Christie administration and the Legislature protected state funding for a vital initiative in the Department of Agriculture called the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP). The SFPP is a supplement to the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which last year supplied about 12 million pounds of food to nearly 400,000 households in New Jersey.

Begun in FY2007 with a budget of $3.9 million, the SFPP provides state tax dollars to the Community FoodBank in order to buy food in bulk quantities to be distributed at local food pantries. In January, as he was leaving office, former Governor Corzine added $3 million more to the fund for FY2010. Governor Christie shaved off a token $100,000 from that total in his first budget, but continued the program at the more substantial level of $6.8 million for FY2011. The SFPP allows for the purchase of 9.7million pounds of food for distribution at local pantries.

Thirty-eight states invest in emergency food and nutrition programs. A study by the California Association of Food Banks earlier this year showed New Jersey was fourth among states in its funding of emergency food programs, with an annual expenditure of $22 per household. Massachusetts was first at $62, followed by New York at $36 and Pennsylvania at $32 per household.

Even so, New Jersey could improve. In 2007, only 59 percent of New Jerseyans eligible for food stamps received them, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and there are 324,000 New Jersey households that are “food insecure,” meaning that all household members do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy life at all times.

That first Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621 was a three day harvest festival, not unlike others in ancient times or other cultures. We should all keep foremost in our minds that the gathering of Pilgrims and Native Americans offered a chance for the entire community to join in the feasting and partake of the bounty that the harvest offered.

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Filed under Community Food Bank Of New Jersey, food banks, hunger, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Thanksgiving