It was happy news last week as the state’s Office of Legislative Services announced it expects the state to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue thanks to an unexpected increase in income tax revenue. And it was downright joyful when leaders of both parties announced the need to apply every cent to paying down the state’s out-of-control debt, in hopes of relieving some of the problems looming up the pike.
Ha, ha! Just kidding, naïve readers. This surplus is sure to disappear down the throats of vested interests, just like each one before.
Where’s it all likely to go? Here are some possibilities:
n Rehiring laid-off public workers. This would mitigate New Jersey’s jobless problem at the cost of heaping even more debt onto the pension and benefits system.
n Infrastructure. There’s now a plan to fund the Transportation Trust Fund; we don’t like it. Borrowing in New Jersey is the equivalent of a cement submarine: it may get you in the water, but good luck resurfacing. Just ask Moody’s. But a TTF solution needs to involve a long-term, dedicated source of revenue, like a higher gas tax, not a one-off gimmick.
n Property owners. This one takes all the political courage of wearing a flag lapel to a town hall meeting. Sure, property taxes are too high, and a juicy rebate in late October might swing a few votes to the incumbents, but it’s not sustainable in the long term — and won’t sway the Tax Foundation when it crunches the numbers next year.
Meaningful counterpoints tend to be lost, though, when legislators can’t make out the finer points through all the drool they’ve frothed over the numbers. We hope they realize the benefits of investing that money in paying down the debt, which will have a much more useful future impact than their re-election through a property tax rebate. But now who’s being naïve?