TRENTON -- A New Jersey Senate committee yesterday opened public hearings on a plan to roll back $2.8 billion of state taxes, but Republicans -- who take control of the Legislature next month -- boycotted the proceedings.
Arguing that a complete dismatling of the tax package would lead to fiscal chaos, Republican members of the Senate Revenue, Finance, and Appropriations Committee refused to attend, leaving it to state business and industry leaders to speak against the idea.
James Morford, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the state's economy needs "predictability and stability" to recover from the recession, not a "scorched earth policy."
"Repeal would lead to increased uncertainty in the business community," he said. Noting that eliminating several major sources of revenues could hurt the state's reputation on Wall Street, Mr. Morford urged senators to "proceed with caution."
Under the provisions of several bills introduced last week, all $2.8 billion of Gov. Jim Florio's 1990 tax increases would "sunset" on June 30, the end of fiscal 1992, unless the new Republican-controlled Legislature votes to continue them.
State Sen. Laurence Weiss, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said the purpose is to allow lawmakers a chance to address the state's fiscal needs "unencumbered by leftover hurdles" that the public overwhelmingly rejected in the November election. In the sweeping victory last month, Republicans installed veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Mr. Weiss said giving the new Legislature six months to determine whether to continue the taxes or institute spending cuts to make up for the lost evenues should be more than enough time to avert the "chaos" Republicans have warned against. He said that there is no support for an immediate repeal of the taxes, which would create a gaping hole in the fiscal 1992 budget.
John Budzash, a spokesman for the taxpayer revolt group known as New Jersey Taxpayers' Task Force, urged the lameduck Legislature to go ahead with repeal, citing an unscientific telephone poll by its organization yesterday that found 80% of state residents in favor of a full repeal.
Mr. Budzash chided Republicans for boycotting the hearings and for balking at the tax repeal idea after so forcefully arguing against the taxes when initially proposed.
That same apparent inconsistency led state Sen. Walter Rand, D-Camden, to angrily confront several business leaders who testified yesterday against the tax rollback.
He noted that the state Chamber of Commerce, for example, never supported the tax increases last year, yet now takes the position that they should remain intact.
"It's difficult for me to hear what you said then and then to hear the opposite [position] today," Sen. Rand said. "The disturbs me to no end."
Sen. Weiss said it appared that what business leaders used to call good fiscal policy suddenly became bad policy at 11:00 p.m. Nov. 5 when election results became known.
The committee is slated to conduct additional public hearings on the tax rollback proposals tomorrow.