Chief of staff George Helmy spent minutes detailing all of the reasons why Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s STAY New Jersey program to cut seniors’ property taxes has no chance of earning the approval of Gov. Phil Murphy — noting everything from its annual cost to the inequitable way it will be distributed.
Parimal Garg, the governor’s chief counsel, then summed it up in two sentences.
“It’s important to note that one person that would benefit is Phil Murphy, who would get $10,000 under this bill that he does not need,” Garg said. “Meanwhile, the majority of Black and Hispanic seniors in the state are renters (and) they wouldn’t get anything — they wouldn’t even qualify for the bill.”
If there was any reason to believe Murphy was bluffing when he said he would shut down the government rather than accept a budget that included the plan, four of his top economic advisors reiterated his opposition during an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.
Helmy and Garg, who joined Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Growth Eric Brophy and Chief Policy Adviser Dennis Zeveloff for a Meet the Policymakers event held at Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel, said the proposal sounds good — until it gets scrutinized.
Helmy said the cost — estimated to be at least $1.6 billion annually — would be unstainable.
“At some point, the spend-to-revenue balance is so off that things aren’t sustainable,” he said. “So, if you make a $1.7 billion annual appropriation, which is what we believe this plan is, fully scaled up, it’s hard to see how you afford that in the off years.”
Helmy said the governor — and the Legislature — has more pressing priorities, including K-12 funding and pension payments, among other issues.
Then there’s the issue of where the benefit is going, Garg said.
“Places like Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth (and) Paterson are getting very limited benefits from this proposal, while much wealthier areas of the state, such as Morris County, Monmouth County, Ocean County would get significantly larger proportions of the benefits,” he said. “That’s a real concern for us.”
The fact it’s a never-ending allocation is troubling to Zeveloff, who praised the administration’s ability to have multiple budgets that did not include any new fees.
He also questioned why the state should take on such an allocation when some major one-time payment issues are still out there — including past-due rental and utility payment assistance.
“Is this something where, if we’re not spending money on $10,000 checks for Gov. Murphy and Bruce Springsteen, are we then able to put more money to help them wipe out some of these programs?” he said.