From the Asbury Park Press:
It was a good year for taxpayers in most states.
Awash in surplus money from an improving economy, 24 states cut taxes in 2006. Others increased the amount of money they spent on programs and boosted reserves to help the next time fiscal woes come calling.
New Jersey was not among them.
The Garden State increased sales, corporate, cigarette and other taxes by $1.84 billion, easily the largest total tax increase among states in 2006, according to a new report from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers. The second-highest, Texas, increased cigarette and tobacco taxes by $431 million, the report found.
The ranking riled state Republicans, who are in the minority in New Jersey’s Legislature.
“New Jersey taxpayers are being bled dry,” said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris.
While 14 other states also increased taxes in 2006, New Jersey alone boosted taxes nearly as much as the entire country cut them. Overall, states cut taxes $2.1 billion in 2006, the report found.
The findings were no surprise to Gov. Corzine who, along with fellow Democratic leaders, approved the tax hikes to close a projected $4.5 billion budget deficit. The move wasn’t easy: The legislative dispute around it shut down state government for a week and caused Atlantic City’s casinos to close their doors briefly.
“We have not been managing the finances of the state in a way that is reflective of sound fiscal policy,” Corzine said in a recent interview.
With a projected $2 billion deficit looming for 2007, New Jersey lawmakers will continue trying to repair the state’s finances as other states enjoy what Raymond C. Scheppach, National Governors Association executive director, described as a “good time to be governor.”
“The stable, healthy fiscal condition of states across the nation affords current governors options their predecessors did not experience,” he said.
New Jersey in recent years has increased spending on, among other things, poor city schools, child welfare reforms, debt and homeland security. Meanwhile, the state skipped public worker pension payments and relied on moves such as raiding an unemployment compensation fund and borrowing billions to balance spending.
Now, the state struggles to pay for public schools, property tax cuts, health care, open space preservation and state college and university aid.