Saturday, April 08, 2006

The New Jersey Budget Problem

In an article headlined New Jersey lawmakers unlikely to get last-minute budget reprieve, Tom Hester Jr. of the Associated Press writes:

Much like prisoners awaiting execution, state lawmakers in recent years have spent budget deliberations waiting for last minute reprieves in the form of unanticipated tax collections.
Last year, for instance, an unforeseen $1 billion increase in tax revenue helped legislators balance the budget without having to ax most property tax rebates or approve $150 million in proposed new taxes.
But lawmakers are realizing that the reality of New Jersey's fiscal mess, coupled with the state's sluggish economy, offer little hope for a late spring windfall.
That means that _ just as Gov. Jon S. Corzine has suggested _ they may have to actually cut programs and increases taxes as the July 1 deadline to approve an approximately $31 billion budget nears.
As usual, the NJ state legislature is hoping for some way to spend more of our tax dollars. In the article, Democrat Lou Greenwald, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, discusses his plan to reduce spending:
"What our goal will be is to find more waste and better efficiencies"

Pretty strong, isn't it? I can't wait to see how the Assembly finds more efficient ways to waste our money.
Assembly Republicans aren't much better.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington, wants to eliminate a state grant program that this fiscal year provided $3,000 grants for activities such as duck decoy carving, basket making and Indian music lessons.
"It may not be a lot of money, but it's symptomatic of the disregard that some people in state government have for the financial problems we have in the state of New Jersey," Malone said. "It's just incomprehensible."

I suppose it's progress to see an actual proposed cut, but couldn't they be a little more aggressive about it? I'd like to see some true reform, with a bold vision for change rather than sniping around the edges.
For example, they could cap state spending on education at some percentage of Gross State Product. Any excess funds collected through the income tax could be returned to the taxpayers through annual "rebates" or even - perish the thought - rate reductions. Even if they set it at today's level, if they would distribute the funds equitably amongst the school districts we would generate huge benefits for most New Jersey property tax payers.
Unfortunately, our New Jersey Republican Party doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to create, much less hold on to, any kind of vision.

Tags: New Jersey, Taxes, Budget, Pork