Senate President Nicholas Scutari introduced a Senate version Thursday of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin's tax relief bill for seniors that Gov. Phil Murphy has expressed opposition to over cost concerns. (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
A tax relief bill for senior citizens that elicited cost concerns from Gov. Phil Murphy now has a Senate companion, heralding a conflict between legislative leaders and the governor with just a few weeks to go before the state’s deadline to pass a budget.
Senate President Nicholas Scutari on Thursday introduced a Senate version of the proposal dubbed StayNJ that Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin introduced last week. The plan would cut the property tax bills of homeowners over 65 by half, starting in January 2025. There is no income limit for seniors to be eligible.
Scutari (D-Union) called the proposal “a game changer.”
“Eliminating 50 percent of their property tax bills will provide seniors more financial security so they can stay in New Jersey,” he said in a statement.
Murphy last week expressed concern over the plan’s cost, which would start at $300 million the first year and climb to $1.2 billion by fiscal year 2028 and every year afterward, according to the bill.
Thursday, the governor doubled down on his opposition. Murphy spokeswoman Jennifer Sciortino said while he is open to tax relief ideas from legislative leaders, they must be “sustainable and implementable.”
“While well-intentioned, the ‘StayNJ’ senior property tax relief program is financially unsustainable and would undo years of budget progress made by the Legislature and the governor’s office,” Sciortino said. “The total net cost of the program would be $1.6 billion each year and there is no new revenue to offset these new costs, which would mean depleting the hard earned surplus that has steadily been built up over the years.”
The plan includes no income caps and doesn’t combine with existing property tax relief programs, Sciortino added.
That means people who already receive tax relief through the Senior Freeze or ANCHOR programs will get little to no new benefit, while some might even see their total tax bill rise slightly “due to interactions with the income tax’s property tax deduction,” Sciortino added. Treasury officials estimate 18,000 seniors making over $500,000 would receive about $8,000, while 84,000 lower-income seniors would receive no new benefit, she added.
“High-income taxpayers will receive a much larger new benefit and the largest share of the total cost of the program,” she said.
Instead, Sciortino added, the governor plans to expand eligibility for Senior Freeze and Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled.
The progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective also opposes the StayNJ plan. One in four seniors rents their home and would be left out of the proposal, according to Peter Chen, a senior policy analyst.
“Making New Jersey more affordable for seniors is a noble goal, but we’re not going to get there by giving the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Phil Murphy a $10,000 check,” Chen said in a statement. “There are more effective and efficient ways to target relief to the seniors who are struggling the most with high housing costs, grocery bills, and prescription drug prices.”
Despite such criticism, a flurry of Democrats announced their support for the plan Thursday, with Sens. Vin Gopal (D-Middlesex), Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset), and Joe Lagana (D-Bergen) signing on as co-sponsors of the Senate bill. Assembly members Louis Greenwald (D- Camden), Lisa Swain (D-Bergen), and Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) are co-sponsors in that chamber.
“Seniors who have devoted most of their lives, jobs and careers to the state’s quality of life should be supported if they want to remain in their home communities and near their families,” Zwicker said Thursday in a statement. “They have earned the dignity of affordability after the age of 65 – the property tax relief in this plan will help them keep it.”
The plan, along with existing tax relief plans that benefit seniors such as the senior freeze and Anchor programs, should help make New Jersey more affordable for elderly residents, Gopal agreed.
“Most seniors around the Garden State are living on a fixed income, yet the cost of living continues to rise,” Gopal said in a statement. “Too many residents look beyond our borders when it comes time to retire.”
The disagreement among Trenton’s top Democrats comes as the Legislature faces a June 30 deadline to pass a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
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