TRENTON - Amid opposition from the Corzine administration, Assembly Democrats yesterday pushed forward a plan to ask voters this fall to dedicate all the money raised by last year's sales-tax increase to property-tax relief.
Voters last year approved dedicating half the money, helping fund a plan to send checks averaging $1,051 to most homeowners to help pay the nation's highest property taxes.
The proposal that received a public hearing yesterday would dedicate the remaining money from the increase to property-tax help. That would guarantee $1.4 billion in sales-tax money each year to help with property taxes.
Constitutional amendments do not require a governor's approval, but Gov. Corzine's administration hasn't endorsed the plan because of worries that dedicating money to a specific use could pose problems.
"I don't see the benefits in having our flexibility limited," Treasurer Bradley Abelow said.
But Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. (D., Camden), the plan's sponsor, said taxpayers should not have to worry whether the state will be able to provide relief from property taxes that are twice the national average.
"This is about providing the citizens, the taxpayers, of this state a level of certainty that property-tax reform is a priority," Roberts said.
The hearing clears the way for the full Assembly to consider the proposal. The plan would need approval from three-fifths of both the Assembly and the Senate to go to voters in November.
The Senate has not scheduled action on the bill. The Legislature has until Aug. 7 to pass proposed constitutional amendments.
"I'm not sold either way," said Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex).
The plan is supported by municipal officials who say the checks and other recently enacted tax reforms still are not enough to tackle property taxes averaging $6,330 per homeowner.
"There has been continued concern that this relief will not be sustainable in the years to come," Somerdale Mayor Gary Passanante said. "This dedication, if approved by the voters, would go a long way to addressing that concern."
Corzine proposed increasing the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent last year to help tackle chronic state budget problems.
Roberts and other legislative Democrats opposed the increase, agreeing to support it only after Corzine agreed to devote half of it to property-tax relief. The deal ended a weeklong state government shutdown, and voters approved that dedication in November.