The focus of budget discussions must be addressing the long-range fiscal issues facing our state. Simply increasing taxes this year without other critical program changes will not solve our fiscal problems. Now is not the time to falter; it is time to act responsibly.
Budget negotiations for fiscal year 2020 will end by June 30, 2019. Hopefully these negotiations will be successful, and New Jersey can move forward to execute programs to help people at a responsible cost.
I was — many years ago — the Budget Director and Comptroller for two New Jersey governors, and now teach budgeting and management courses at Princeton University and Rutgers University. My students always ask how much math they need to know. Calculus, they ask? I tell them if they can add and subtract, all will be fine provided they apply logic, clear thinking, and an appreciation of public policy, tax issues and the needs of the people.
I remind them what a budget is, specifically: a planning document — short- and long-term; a statement of goals and objectives; a forecasting and monitoring document; an outline of services to be provided; a performance and accountability document; a mechanism for making decisions and, yes, a political document. Currently in New Jersey, short-term politics is the dominating element, more so than necessary.
Most of the recent rhetoric about the budget is focused on what happens when the governor receives a document that he does not like: Will he veto it entirely; line-item veto certain items; or reluctantly approve the budget as submitted?
The principal item of disagreement is the governor’s proposal to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million (the rate of 10.75 percent currently applies only to incomes in excess of $5 million). Expanding the income tax brackets would yield approximately $500 million.
But this should not be the issue. Rather, the focus must be how to address the long-range fiscal problems facing the state. Simply increasing taxes this year without other critical program changes will not address the long-range problems.
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