BY TOM KEAN AND ALEX DeCROCE
Gov. Jon Corzine deserves credit for drawing a line in the sand and telling the members of his own party that, for the first time in six years, they must pass a state budget that reduces spending.
But Republicans in the Senate and General Assembly realize that New Jersey is enduring more than just a budget shortfall — it’s suffering from an affordability crisis.
Under the state Constitution, we have until June 30 to come up with a budget that addresses that crisis, not just patches over fiscal problems for one more year.
We need a budget that addresses affordability today. It’s become far more difficult to live in New Jersey because of rising fuel and food prices, a weakening economy that reduces incomes and, most important, some of the highest taxes in the nation.
During the last six years, state government has increased 101 state taxes and fees while freezing state aid to our municipalities and school districts, which resulted in dramatic property-tax increases, some in excess of 42 percent.
The combination of higher taxes, rising cost of living and a stagnant private-sector economy has led people to flee New Jersey for more affordable states. Those who left New Jersey took $7.9 billion in income with them — money that could have been reinvested in schools, bridges and other priorities that would have benefited our children.
The Republicans’ top priority in crafting an alternative to the governor’s budget was to make our state more affordable — to ensure that New Jersey families aren’t broken up by the exit of our children looking for jobs or senior citizens searching for homes they can afford on a fixed income.
This meant providing property- tax relief and boosting our economy so we can attract higher-paying jobs and dynamic new industries. We wanted to head off higher gas taxes or tolls that the Democrats say they may impose later this year. It’s time to restrain the urge to tax and do more to reduce the property-tax burden.
While the Corzine budget proposal reduces spending, it does so largely on the backs of the middle class. The governor’s budget cuts tax rebates, slashes municipal aid needed to keep property taxes in check, lowers funding for hospitals that provide charity care and reduces financial aid for outstanding college students.
We’d rather eliminate wasteful or unnecessary spending.
To fix the affordability crisis, we developed a long-term reform plan to put and keep our state on track. We looked at programs that were slated for huge increases in aid with no apparent justification.
When we dug deeper, we found these murky programs were full of waste, inefficiency and abuse — often documented by members of the governor’s own administration.
The programs were scaled back to find $1.32 billion in savings that could be spent on New Jerseyans’ priorities, not the State House’s.
We restored $525 million in property-tax relief. This includes $375 million that Gov. Corzine cut from the property-tax rebate program and $150 million in municipal aid cuts that would have resulted in dramatic property-tax increases. The cuts would have been borne only by people in small towns, regardless of the residents’ incomes.
We also proposed dedicating $500 million in permanent funding for state transportation projects, eliminating the need for any of the governor’s proposed toll or gas tax hikes.
Approximately $100 million will be set aside as a surplus or to pay down debt. The remaining $195 million will be used to help restore aid to vital programs the governor proposed cutting, including funding for hospitals and nursing homes, elimination of a proposed co-pay for Medicaid recipients, and restoration of higher education assistance programs for the most deserving scholars in the state.
We aimed to suggest cuts that were fair to everyone. The governor dismissed us out of hand. In doing so, he is putting his support behind programs that have been shown to be laden with pork for the politically connected.
We urge him to take another look. We’re ready to work with him and any member of the Legislature who thinks that an affordable New Jersey is more critical than reward ing the politically powerful.
We also urge the governor to champion our long-term reform proposals to make Trenton more accountable. They include caps on the growth of spending, voter approval of all debt and a two-thirds super-majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. We’d grant citizens the power to propose their own reforms through initiative and referendum.
We also propose reforms to bring state pensions and benefits more in line with those of the private sector. We take aim at the pension fraud and abuse reported over and over in the state’s newspapers.
Finally, we’d jump-start the economy and create jobs with an economic development plan that would make it far easier for businesses to get help and grow.
This common-sense strategy would make New Jersey more affordable and state government more accountable. We have listened to New Jerseyans. We think we have come up with a way to help citizens get more of what they want from government.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean represents the 21st Legislative District. Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce represents the 26th Legislative District.