The New Jersey Legislature yesterday voted to override gov. Jim Florio's veto of a $608 million sales tax cut, handing the Democratic governor the most significant defeat of his term.
The Assembly approved the measure, which will pull the tax back to 6% from 7%, by a 59-to-12 vote-- five votes more than the two-thirds needed for an override. The Senate vote was 29 to 2, two more than required.
Gov. Florio veoted the bill Monday, arguing he could not support the idea until the Republican-controlled Legislature explained how it would make up for the last revenues.
Republicans have refused to specify what programs they would cut, promising to unveil a detailed package early next month.
During yesterday's debate, Republican legislators blamed the state's ongoing recession on Gov. Florio and his package of $2.8 billion in income tax and sales tax increases, which he instituted upon taking office in 1990.
"Look at what $2.8 billion in taxes and unbridled spending have done to our state," said Assemblyman Jose Sosa, R-Burlington. He said the govenor is to blame for the loss of 285,000 jobs and an unemployment level that last month hit an eight-year high.
"Let's remember, this is the same administration whose fiscal gimmickry caused our state to lose its triple-A bond rating," Assmeblyman Sosa added, reffering to a downgrade to AA-plus last year by Standard & Poor's Corp. Moody's Investors Service and fitch Investors Service have maintained their triple-A assessments of the state.
The governor's 1990 tax package generated a storm of protest across the state and led to amajor election victory for the Republicans in November. Campaigning on promises to undo the tax rise, Republicans assumed control of both houses of the Legislature in numbers large enough to assure a veto override.
"A tax hike got us this mess, and a tax cut will get us out of it," said Assmeblyman Frank Catania, R-Passaic. "This will pump $600 million into the state's economy."
But Democrats taking Gov. Florio's side argued that rolling back the tax without explaining how spending would be cut was irresponsible, especially at a time when New Jersey's budget picture appears to be worsening.
Earlier this month, state Treasurer Samuel Crane announced that revenues for this fiscal year and for 1993 would be $652 million short of expectations, not counting the $608 millon gap a sales tax cut would generate.
Also at issue is whether an additional $380 million in federal Medicaid funds will materialize.
After the override vote yesterday, Gov. Florio said he "shares the concerns of people who suggest perhaps we should have waited until better economic times" for a tax rollback.
"I'm happy to see taxes go down, as anyone would be," the governor added. "but people all over the state have been saying slow down and make sure this is a good deal."
In his veto message Monday, the governor said he would agree to tax cut only if the lawmakers explain how they will balance the budget for fiscal 1993, which starts July 1, and agree to set aside a surplus of at least $226 million.
he also demanded they mantain property tax rebates at current levels and fully fund various programs for education, public transit, and welfare.
Now the Legislature begins the job of cutting $1 billion," Gov. Florio said yesterday. "I join with the people of this state in awaiting the