County angered by plan to eliminate homeowner rebates

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Acting Governor Richard Codey's proposal to eliminate this year's homeowner rebates to help balance the 2006 state budget has angered local elected officials and homeowners. The NJ Saver Rebate Program, which last year gave most middle-class homeowners $800 tax rebates, would be cut by the acting governor as part of his plan to close a state budget deficit of close to $4 billion. In his announcement last week, the Essex County Democrat, who resumed the governor's duties following the resignation of James McGreevey last November, said that the state is near bankruptcy, and the elimination of the rebate program would save about $1.1 billion. Many have expressed outrage. "Between our property taxes here in Wantage, and if he does that, we're moving out of state," declared Daniel Grant, who has owned a single-family home in northern Sussex County for 18 years. "The details are still left to be seen, but if I was a property taxpayer, I would be outraged," stated Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R-24), whose district covers three counties, including all of Sussex. "This is the height of hypocrisy. West State Street has been protected at the expense of Main Street, New Jersey. The cumulative weight of living here, I think, is beginning to hit everybody." Codey, who announced one month ago that he would not seek his party's gubernatorial nomination this June, has drawn heavy criticism from both property owners and members of the state assembly, all of whose 80 seats are up for re-election this coming November, as well as all 40 senate seats. Democrats hold majorities in both houses, 47-33 in the Assembly and 22-18 in the Senate. "This is a budget based on taxes and increased fees," charged Assemblywoman Allison McHose, a Franklin Republican, in a press release. "Besides the dramatic cuts to vital property tax relief programs, the Democratic budget proposal does nothing to address their out-of-control spending habits." State Senator Robert Littell, a Franklin Republican, issued a press release commending Codey's "courage" for recognizing New Jersey's fiscal state, but he also said that "upon further examination, I find that there are still areas that need to be worked on." Reportedly, Codey, also the state senate president who hails from West Orange, would exempt senior citizens from the rebate's proposed elimination. However, many seniors remain worried. "The elimination of $1.2 billion in property tax relief and $455 million in new tax increases that impact primarily on middle class families, needs to be examined closely during the budget process," Littell continued. "I look forward to FY 2006 budget hearings and working with my colleagues on the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees to provide the fairest, most equitable budget for all the citizens of New Jersey." "I'm living off my savings and every little bit helps," said Daniel Mulcahy, 72, who has owned a single-family home in Sparta for almost 33 years. "The property tax goes up every year. It usually goes up more than the refund. It's not fair just to include seniors. It should be for everybody, not just seniors." Hearings on the budget are expected to begin by late March. By law, New Jersey must have an enacted, balanced budget by July 1. Pointing out that assemblymen and state senators of both parties are vulnerable in an election year, Gregg predicted "many changes" would occur by the date. "This is my twelfth budget," said Gregg, a high-ranking member of the assembly's Republican Conference. "No budget has ever ended identical to the way it started. There will be many changes in this budget, there's no question about it. "Will the rebates be back by funding a bigger budget, or will we put it back by cutting waste?" Gregg added rhetorically. "We've had three years of fiscal mismanagement. People plan on their tax return money. I know people. If you're making $30,000 a year, an $800 tax return is a lot."