POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Sweeney Pushes for Millionaires Tax Again, Despite Opposition from Christie

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

“If you can afford to give more for public services, then you should,” said Andrea Ploeg of Jersey City.

In fact, the latest poll shows two-thirds of New Jersey residents approve of making their very wealthy neighbors pay more income tax. But debate goes on, especially after Senate President Steve Sweeney again proposed raising the state income tax on millionaires.

Our unscientific street poll:

“In my view is that there’s other ways to balance the budget — by cutting costs and maybe working towards public-private partnerships,” said Elyssa McMullen of Westfield.

“Come on. You’re living in one of the most beautiful areas in the United States. Pay your fair share of taxes,” said Steve Rinaldo of Pepack-Gladstone.

“I’m fine with it. I think if you’re making a million bucks, you can afford to pay a little more, but I think think the bigger problem is not generating the revenue. It’s how it’s spent,” said Mike Campion of Fanwood.

“Well I introduced the millionaires tax again for one reason — we have an obligation to fund our pensions,” Sweeney said.

The battle over pensions landed before New Jersey’s Supreme Court this week, where the unions argued those payments are required by law, but the Christie administration claimed there’s just no money. Sweeney’s answer: the millionaires tax. Currently, income over $1 million is taxed at almost 9 percent. Over four years, that’d rise to 10.75 percent — and yield an estimated $675 million.

“And if this administration had done its job in growing the economy, we’d have $3.3 billion more. We wouldn’t have an issue,” Sweeney said.

But they do have an issue with Gov. Chris Christie who vetoed Sweeney’s millionaires tax hike four times before — will veto it again and relishes sarcastically skewering the proposal.

“You don’t have to be a millionaire and we’ll tax you like a millionaire. And you can tell all your friends, you pay the Millionaire’s tax,” Christie said previously.

“It’s DOA and I don’t think anyone disagrees with this statement — the last thing New Jersey needs is more taxes. We need reform and we need to be competitive as a state. Otherwise we’re gonna have more serious problems,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

Christie says the threat of higher taxes drove 10,000 millionaires to abandon New Jersey last year. But Sweeney counters there’s been a 38 percent increase in New Jersey’s millionaire population over the four prior years — from 12,000 to more than 16,800.

Will they stay or will they go?

“The data on there seems really mixed. Some data says people are leaving, some says they aren’t leaving. The reality is New Jersey is a very desirable place for people to live,” said Mark Pfeiffer, a senior policy fellow at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Pfeiffer says raising revenues remains a problem, and a tax hike may push likely retirees to leave, but, “People who are still working are gonna stay here.”

Whether millionaires get to vote with their feet on a tax increase could be a moot point. If Sweeney’s proposal clears the Legislature, it’s apparently got a date with a veto pen.

Related: NJ Spotlight Finance Writer: Millionaires Tax Unlikely to Become Law