Between the Lines

Hunting for millionaires

The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife may have to establish a new hunting season this year, not for deer or bears, but for millionaires.

Gov. Phil Murphy appears to think that if he can scrape up enough millionaires who’ll pay more taxes, he can solve many if not all of the state’s financial problems.

State Senate President Steven Sweeney (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem) begs to disagree, claiming the governor’s proposed tax increase from 8.97 to 10.75 percent on incomes higher than one million dollars a year would only drive the elusive quarry out of the state, leaving fewer millionaires to pay taxes.

The battle over the tax proposal goes beyond the state budget to mirror the political power struggle between Northern and Southern New Jersey. But the state’s financial crisis is real. Sweeney, like many climate scientists, may well be predicting the end of the world, or at least a massive economic meltdown unless the state tackles issues such as the state pension fund.

Trying to rein in escalating public employee pension funds has plagued state government for decades, in particular from the 1990s when Gov. Christine Whitman shortchanged the funds to balance the state budget. She’d just seen her predecessor Gov. Jim Florio run out of office when he proposed raising taxes to pay for programs and pensions.

Whitman’s precarious budget maneuver created a domino-effect on New Jersey’s pension debt. Pension payments to retired state employees rise naturally each year, and the cost is made even worse when earlier payments, and the tax increases that would have paid for them, have been avoided.

While Gov. Murphy appears to be taking a chapter out of the Florio playbook to raise taxes to pay for his programs, his idea for a millionaire’s tax may well be another Whitman-like quick fix, solving budget woes this year with devastating consequences in future years.

Sweeney and others also argue that a new millionaire’s tax will only drive the millionaires to other states, as was the case the last time the state decided to pick the pockets of millionaires.

Sweeney is protecting his own political interests in South Jersey. But New Jersey’s fiscal troubles are coming in the midst of another crisis.

The federal tax “reform” made two years ago put firm caps on how much of their property taxes people can write off on their federal income taxes. In the past, the impact of local taxes was reduced because local taxpayers could write off sizable amounts of property tax.

Both U.S. Senators in New Jersey have been trying to undo this cap to provide local property relief.

The federal cap only highlights the fact that New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation. If state and local governments weren’t imposing the amount of tax they are, residents wouldn’t need to write these taxes off their federal income tax.

All this puts Gov. Murphy in a Catch 22. In order to pay for the very aggressive progressive agenda he ran on to get elected, he needs revenue. Taxes generated from legalized marijuana would have gone a long way toward paying for those programs. But opponents in the legislature have derailed legalization, leaving it up to voters in a referendum on the 2020 ballot.

Unfortunately, if taxes remain as high as they are or get higher, it won’t only be the millionaires seeking green pastures elsewhere.

Get out now!

Because of West New York’s outdated form of government, former Mayor Felix Roque may not have had enough time to hire a moving van to get his stuff out of town hall. By law, West New York had to reorganize within seven days after the county certified the winner.

With newly elected Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez moving in, Rogue would have had to scramble to get his stuff out on time. After eight years as mayor, Roque no doubt had a fair number of knickknacks, proclamations, and other items no longer welcome in town hall.

While the election was closer than many predicted, Roque clearly lacked the momentum he had when he pulled an upset win over Sal Vega in 2011.

Rogue’s victory over Vega was filled with passion that seemed absent in the 2019 election. There were few of the powerful rallies in 2019 that Roque had brought to the 2011 contest.

Rogue did manage to get an army of volunteers on the streets on Election Day. But he seemed to rely on the power of incumbency rather than the people power that brought him to office in the first place.

Perhaps among the memorabilia he’s carting out of town hall after the election are photographs of those old rallies.

Jersey City Democrats reorganize

The most surprising thing about the reorganization of the Jersey City Democratic Organization this week was the lack of surprises. Anybody who was anybody in the organization prior to the meeting was back in.

Some people expected changes because of last year’s failed coup by Mayor Steven Fulop and others to unseat County Executive Tom DeGise. Yet, despite a lot of huffing and puffing by county Democrats, Fulop appears to have solidified his base and maintains control of the local Democratic Party.

This is bad news for Council President Rolando Lavarro, who will apparently not be invited to run with Fulop in 2021.

Lavarro will have to run on his own. That will be a tough fight, especially if rumors are true that Fulop has invited Tom DeGise’s daughter, Amy DeGise (chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization) to run for city council on his ticket in place of Lavarro.

Fulop has managed to get his key people back in charge with the Jersey City Democrats. Barbara Stamato was reappointed as chair of the local Democratic Committee, with Peter Busacca as first vice chair, Irma Green as second vice chair, and Sean Connors as third vice chair.

Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com