NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto reach terms on new Transportation Trust Fund Agreement.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced Friday that they had come to terms on a new agreement to replenish the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund and gradually phase out the estate tax.

The plan calls for a 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, which Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Prieto (D-Secaucus) say will generate $1.2 billion each year in new revenue and provide support for approximately $2 billion in annual infrastructure investments. The agreement also calls for several concessions in conjunction with the gas tax hike, such as a plan to gradually phase out New Jersey’s estate tax over the next three to four years.

Details:

  • The attention will now shift to Gov. Chris Christie, who late last month agreed on an 11th-hour plan with Prieto to tie a 23-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase with a decrease in the state’s sales tax from 7 percent to 6 percent. Sweeney didn’t support the agreement, citing budget concerns;
  • the new agreement, the plan to phase out the estate tax is similar to a bipartisan bill cosponsored months ago by state Sens:
  • the exclusion rate on the estate tax, which currently applies to inheritances valued at $675,000 or more, would be upped to $2 million beginning Jan. 1 and then to the federal level of $5.4 million by Jan. 1, 2018. By Jan. 1, 2020, the tax would be completely eliminated;
  • the plan would also increase the threshold for retirement income exemptions for married couples to $100,000 over four years. Exclusion rates would be increased to $50,000 for married couples filing separately and $75,000 for single taxpayers.
  • the plan also calls for offering a $3,000 personal exemption on state income taxes to qualified veterans, a $500 annual income tax deduction to in-state motorists making up to $100,000 per year and an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit program to 40 percent.

 

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New Jersey Transportation Funding- key elements of Senate bill.

The New Jersey state Senate adjourned on Monday before considering any proposals related to renewing transportation funding or cutting taxes. But the Senate is back in session tomorrow, setting the stage for what is expected to be another long day of negotiations.

At the heart of a new bill that was  passed by the state Assembly early Tuesday morning  is a proposed 1 percent reduction of New Jersey’s 7 percent sales tax.The cut would be phased in, starting at 0.5 percent next year and reaching the full 1 percent in 2018. It would come as part of a broader deal to renew the state Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) for another 8 years with a 23-cent gas tax hike.

The proposal featuring the sales-tax cut that has emerged this week actually is an alternative to another bipartisan plan that came out of the state Senate earlier this month.

That plan, sponsored by Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) and Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), also features a 23-cent gas-tax hike, but instead of a sales-tax cut it calls for phasing out New Jersey’s estate tax and making a series of other tax cuts. They include lifting state income-tax exemptions on pensions, 401(k) plans, and other sources of retirement income over the course of several years. The Sarlo-Oroho plan would cost an estimated $870 million once all the cuts were fully implemented.

The new proposal, backed by Governor Christie and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-Hudson), scraps most of the tax cuts that are included in the Sarlo-Oroho plan in exchange for the sales-tax reduction. It does, however, keep changes to retirement-income exemptions that the two senators proposed, adding another $200 million to the potential cost of the Christie-Prieto plan.

The Senate has yet to consider the proposal, but if it were to be enacted, the sales-tax cut would represent New Jersey’s first reduction of a broad-based tax since 1994. It would also come at a time when the state has been experiencing revenue problems, including a $600 million budget hole that had to be closed with a series of cuts and other adjustments just last month.

The budget impact of the proposed sales-tax cut would start out modestly at $376 million during the 2017 fiscal year. And because it is part of a broader plan that involves the gas-tax increase to shore up the TTF, the cut would initially free up roughly $350 million in sales-tax revenue that’s currently being used to prop up the deeply indebted trust fund.

Going forward, the impact of the sales-tax cut on the budget would rise to an estimated $1.6 billion once fully phased in during the 2019 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. Because all of the more than $1 billion in annual revenue that would come in from the 23-cent gas-tax hike would be constitutionally dedicated to funding transportation projects,  the sales tax cut  would not be offset, leaving a gap on the state budget.

Supporters predict that gap would be closed by economic growth, but if that growth doesn’t materialize, the hole would have to be filled with spending cuts or other tax hikes since the state constitution requires a balanced budget.

Complicating the issue even further is a planned constitutional amendment, backed by Democratic legislative leaders and public-worker unions, that call’s for revenue growth to help fund a series of ramped-up state contributions to the presently underfunded public-employee pension system. If voters approve the amendment this fall, it would mandate spending on the pension payments to increase from $1.3 billion this fiscal year to over $3 billion just as the full impact of the sales tax-cut would take effect.

New Jersey’s sales tax is rooted in a 1966 law that established a 3 percent rate. That was increased to 5 percent in 1970, and to 6 percent in 1983. The rate was lifted to 7 percent in 1990 under then-Democratic Gov. Jim Florio, only to be reversed in a backlash in 1992.

Another increase restored the rate to 7 percent in 2006 under then-Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, but only after a six-day shutdown of state government. At the same time, the range of services that are subject to the sales tax was expanded, though New Jersey still offers exemptions for clothing, groceries and necessities.

Unlike many other states, New Jersey does not allow sales taxes to be levied at the local level. In fact, specially designated Urban Enterprise Zones allow many struggling urban areas to charge a lesser rate of 3.5 percent.

Notably, sales tax collections have been on the rise; while income tax is subject to significant volatility, the sales tax has been a steady performer for the state budget over the last several years. It generated $7.5 billion in revenue during the 2010 fiscal year, and $7.8 billion during the 2011 fiscal year. Sales tax collections then steadily improved from $8 billion during the 2012 fiscal year to $8.8 billion through the 2015 fiscal year. The latest projection for the current fiscal year, which ends at midnight tomorrow, is for $9.3 billion, and Christie’s administration is forecasting a $9.6 billion haul during the 2017 fiscal year.

Nuts and Bolts of New Jersey’s Proposed 10-year, $20B Infrastructure Funding

On Friday we reported that New Jersey State lawmakers announced a bi-partisan agreement to  raise enough revenue to support a decade-long, $20 billion Transportation Trust Fund, and said their plans should be coupled with  tax cuts.

Actually,  released minutes apart in afternoon press releases and just 20 days before the trust fund ends its five-year authorization and 20 months after the state’s now-former transportation commissioner began warning of an impending “crisis” that could doom the roads and bridges New Jerseyans rely on every day a second proposal was released..

Both plans call for increasing the state’s taxes on oil companies, known as the gross petroleum product receipts tax.

Still, it was made clear the proposals would mean higher prices on the roads: The concept offered by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo and Republican Sen. Steve Oroho includes an increase in the petroleum taxes that, if passed onto the consumer, would mean a 23-cent increase in the state’s gas tax, to 37.5 cents per gallon.

The two lawmakers, who won support for their proposal from Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and other members of the lower house from across the state, argued the tax would still be lower than what is paid by motorists in New York and California. Oroho — the only Republican to support either measure — said it is also important to note that an estimated one-third of drivers who buy gas in New Jersey are from other states.

The other proposal, which comes from some senior Assembly Democrats, led by Speaker Vincent Prieto, is much more vague and does not say exactly how much the petroleum tax would need to be increased. It would likely be by a similar margin, given that both plans call for trust funds of the same size. The Assembly version, though, also calls for a “modernization” of how the state taxes jet fuel. Currently, jet fuel is taxed at 4 cents per gallon and only for quantities used during taxiing and takeoff.

Both of the plans announced Friday include similarly ambitious proposals for cutting taxes, notably by phasing out the estate tax, which generates some $600 million in annual revenue and is paid on inherited wealth worth more than $675,000. The Senate version would end the tax in just three years — two years faster than Sarlo and Oroho had previously called for. The Assembly measure would take four years.

Both proposals would boost the tax exemption threshold for retirement income and increase the earned income tax credit from 30 percent to 40 percent of the federal benefit.

The Assembly proposal does not include an income tax deduction for charitable contributions, one idea Republicans have been aggressively pursuing. The Sarlo and Oroho legislation would create a write-off for charitable contributions to specific organizations involved in social services. It would also allow a write-off for those who spend more than 1 percent of their income on the gas tax.

The lawmakers behind both proposals said it was critical that a new trust fund be authorized before the current one runs dry. They also said the status quo is unacceptable. After years of mismanagement, the trust fund is buried in debt and the current gas tax — not raised in more than two decades — can’t support any new construction.

Still, the plans are very similar, differing in just a few ways. There’s really only one notable difference when it comes to actual administration of the trust fund. The Prieto framework calls for doubling transportation aid to municipalities, from about $200 million to about $400 million per year. While Sarlo has previously said he wanted to do that, their plan makes no specific mention of increasing municipal aid.

Most advocates for infrastructure spending reacted positively to the proposals, saying both offer appear to offer realistic approaches to funding transportation projects for the next decade.