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Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’

New Jersey gets abused by comedians as being some sort of dump, but there are some scenic parts of the state.

So it actually can be a nice place to live. That being said, it’s not a good place to die. Here’s a chart from the American Family Business Foundation that was featured in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.

As you can see, New Jersey has the nation’s most punitive death tax. Most of the blame belongs to the 35 percent federal tax, but successful residents of the Garden State lose an additional 19 percent of their assets when they die. As the WSJ opined:

Here’s some free financial advice: Don’t die in New Jersey any time soon. If you have more than $675,000 to your name and you die in the Garden State, about 54% may go to the IRS and the tax collectors in Trenton. Better not take your last breath in Maryland either. The tax penalty for dying there is half of a lifetime’s savings. That’s the combined tab from the new federal estate tax rate of 35% and Maryland’s inheritance and death taxes. Maybe they should rename it the Not-So-Free State. …Family business owners, ranchers, farmers and wealthy retirees can avoid that tax by relocating to Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina and other states that don’t impose inheritance taxes. There are plenty of attractive places to go. New research indicates that high state death taxes may be financially self-defeating. A 2011 study by the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, a think tank in Rhode Island, examined Census Bureau migration data and discovered that “from 1995 to 2007 Rhode Island collected $341.3 million from the estate tax while it lost $540 million in other taxes due to out-migration.” Not all of those people left because of taxes, but the study found evidence that “the most significant driver of out-migration is the estate tax.” After Florida eliminated its estate tax in 2004, there was a significant acceleration of exiles from Rhode Island to Florida.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the correct death tax rate is zero, as I’ve explained for USA Today. Indeed, I also cited evidence from Australia and the United States about how people will take extraordinary steps to avoid this wretched form of double taxation.

New Jersey has lots of problems. All of those problems will be easier to fix if successful people don’t leave the state. Sounds like another issue for Governor Christie to address.

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While I think of myself as being in favor of harsh punishment for criminals, I try to restrain this bloodthirsty impulse by remembering that many laws are unjust, all governments are incompetent, and prosecutors often place personal ambition above justice.

And the last point is why I worry about electing people like Rudy Giuliani to high office. There were several reasons why I wasn’t a big fan of the former New York City Mayor, but high on the list was his apparent disregard for the rights of the individual. And I suspect most people who served as prosecutors/district attorneys/U.S. attorneys/etc have a what-could-possibly-go-wrong attitude about proposals to expand the power of government.

With this in mind, I was happy to read that Governor Christie of New Jersey (a former U.S. attorney) has freed a man who was unjustly convicted and imprisoned for a gun offense. My happiness is tempered by the fact that he commuted the sentence of Brian Aitken rather than pardoning him, which is why the governor gets two cheers rather than three.

The important news, though, is that an injustice has been addressed and Aitken is now a free man. Here’s a blurb from a Fox News report.

A man given seven years in prison after being found with two guns he purchased legally in Colorado has had his sentence commuted, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday. The case of Brian Aitken, 27, had become a cause célèbre among gun-rights advocates. …Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado, and he passed an FBI background check when he bought them, according to his father, Larry Aitken. Brian also contacted New Jersey State Police before moving back back to the Garden State to discuss how to properly transport his weapons. But despite those good-faith efforts, Larry Aitken said, Brian was convicted on weapons charges and sent to prison in August. Judge James Morley would not allow the argument in trial earlier this year and Christie later declined to reappoint the judge due to an unrelated case.

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When politicians and bureaucrats spend our money, they rarely demonstrate any concern about waste and fraud. Why be conscientious, after all, if you’re spending other people’s money – especially if your real goal is to buy votes and get campaign contributions by providing unearned wealth to well-connected insiders?

I’ve always been more concerned about the negative economic impact of government spending and the failure of Keynesian fiscal policy, but it’s also important to focus on waste and fraud. The average taxpayer may not want to get into the weeds of economic theory, but you don’t need an advanced degree to get upset about $27 light bulbs.

Fortunately, auditors caught this example of waste and fraud, but one can only imagine all the nonsense that’s slipping through the net. Here’s an excerpt from a Bloomberg story:

Contractors billed New Jersey $27 for light bulbs, and ran up tens of thousands of dollars in other “unreasonable costs” on a $119 million weatherization program funded with U.S. stimulus money, the state auditor said. …One contractor sought $27 for light bulbs, while another billed $1.50 for similar items, according to the report and Assistant Auditor Thomas Meseroll. Another vendor charged $75 for carbon-monoxide detectors that it had provided to a different program for $22, the report said. Eells also cited $32,700 in auditing fees when “no services had been performed” and $69,000 in construction costs that couldn’t be verified.

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This definitely belongs in the OMG category. Bureaucrats at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority are ripping off taxpayers in a spectacular fashion. Here are some stunning details:

Auditors say the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wasted $43 million on unneeded perks and bonuses.  In one case, an employee with a base salary of $73,469 earned $321,985 when all payouts and bonuses were included.

The audit says that toll dollars From the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway were spent on items ranging from an employee bowling league to employee bonuses for working on birthdays and holidays.

It took place as tolls were being increased.

The biggest expense uncovered in the audit was $30 million in unjustified bonuses to employees and management in 2008 and 2009 without consideration of performance.

One example was paying employees overtime for removing snow and working holidays and then giving additional “snow removal bonuses” and “holiday bonuses.”

…Among the questionable legal expenses was a billing for $111,840 for a law firm’s weekly internal status meetings that were generally attended by 10 to 15 of the firm’s attorneys and two to three of its paralegals.

P.S. I’m getting rid of the “Part XLIII” part of the “Taxpayers vs Bureaucrats” series. In the beginning, I figured it was a good way of emphasizing the scope of the problem, but now it’s become a bit of a pain (especially since I started having to go online to figure out how to translate numbers into roman numerals).

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I ran across two interesting lists showing how politicians at the state and local level are often just as bad as the ones in Washington, DC. First, Forbes has an article identifying the 10 states with the highest income tax rates. The top rate is a big deterrent to entrepreneurs and investors, but it’s also important to look at the income level where the top tax rate takes effect. Yes, Hawaii, Oregon, and California have terrible tax policy, but Iowa, Maine, and Washington, DC, deserve special scorn for raping the middle class.

Hawaii:                       11% (income over $400,000 (couple), $200,000 (single))
Oregon:                      11% (income over $500,000 (couple), $250,000 (single))
California:                   10.55% (income over $1 million)
Rhode Island:             9.9% (income over $373,650)
Iowa:                          8.98% (income over $64,261)
New Jersey                 8.97% (income over $500,000)
New York:                   8.97% (income over $500,000)
Vermont:                     8.95% (income over $373,650)
Maine:                        8.5% (income over $39,549 (couple), $19,749 (single))
Washington, D.C.:      8.5% (income over $40,000)

Looking at the other major source of revenue for state and local governments, the Tax Foundation identifies the cities with the highest total sales tax rate – a number that often includes three separate levies by state, county, and city governments. Here are the top 10. Or should I say worst 10?

Birmingham AL              10.000%
Montgomery AL             10.000%
Long Beach CA                9.750%
Los Angeles CA               9.750%
Oakland CA                    9.750%
Fremont CA                     9.750%
Chicago IL                     9.750%
Glendale AZ                    9.600%
Seattle WA                     9.500%
San Francisco CA           9.500%

One thing that stands out is that California is on both lists, which helps explain why the state is such a basket case. Seattle deserves a special mention because at least there is no state income tax in Washington.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no sales tax or income tax in New Hampshire. Live Free or Die!

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My default assumption is that all politicians will do the wrong thing when they have to choose between defending freedom and appeasing special interests. Even the ones that spout good rhetoric often do the wrong thing, particularly after a couple of years in office (sort of like being assimilated by the Borg, for you Star Trek fans). So I did not hold out much hope that Chris Christie would have any positive impact on New Jersey. I’m glad to report that (at least so far) I was wrong. Here’s a excerpt from a National Review article about what he’s accomplished. The excerpt is long, but the details are important. And since I obviously had to summarize, you should read the entire article to more fully appreciate how Christie seems to be the real deal.

…on February 11, Christie addressed a special joint session of the state legislature, replacing the vague promises of the campaign trail with first principles, and elaborating the constraints under which he was determined to govern:

“Our constitution requires a balanced budget. Our commitment requires us to begin the next fiscal year with a prudent opening balance. Our conscience and common sense require us to fix the problem in a way that does not raise taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America. Our love for our children requires that we do not shove today’s problems under the rug only to be discovered again tomorrow. Our sense of decency must require that we stop using tricks that will make next year’s budget problem even worse.”

And in an extraordinary move, he then declared a fiscal state of emergency, announcing that by executive order he would impound $2.2 billion in appropriations from a fiscal year that was already seven months gone. That figure represented virtually every dollar the state was not legally obligated to pay out for the remainder of the year. In Bagger’s words, it was “everything that wasn’t nailed down.”

“By doing that so quickly and so dramatically, and by executive action, it really set the stage,” Bagger says. “It was just a very clear declaration that there’s a new reality.”

There was much wailing and teeth-gnashing about the cuts among Democrats. Sweeney accused Christie of “pick[ing] someone else’s pocket,” and senate majority leader Barbara Buono went so far as to say the executive order had “declare[d] martial law” in New Jersey.

This raised the stakes significantly for the FY 2011 budget battle, which was then only beginning. In the year to come, the state would face an $11 billion deficit that made the previous shortfall look like a gratuity. It was a big hole, and Christie needed Democratic votes to close it.

But he had no intention of mollycoddling the other side. On March 16, the governor went back before a joint session of the legislature and introduced a $29.3 billion budget that doubled down on his most controversial measures, trimming fat — and muscle, and sinew — from virtually every department and every entitlement in the state.

The budget did small things, like reducing overtime hours, shrinking the state’s fleet of official vehicles, replacing paper with digital filing, and consolidating government office space. It cut the pay and pension eligibility for members of a number of state boards and commissions, many of whose duties required them to do little more than attend once-monthly meetings. It saved $216 million by eliminating a number of wasteful programs, and another $50 million by privatizing others.

But the budget did big things as well. It shrank the state’s major spending programs — including many that were, the governor admitted, not without merit — by reducing base appropriations and either scaling back or eliminating scheduled funding increases. It converted the state’s property-tax rebate system — long funded by borrowing, at interest, to cut checks to homeowners — with tax credits. It cut $466 million in local aid, against Trenton’s trend of corralling more and more municipal tax dollars for the purposes of redistribution, while pushing a constitutional amendment that would limit towns’ ability to raise property taxes in the future.

And like Corzine before him, Christie deferred payments to the state’s pension program to secure $3.1 billion in savings, under the justification that it was imprudent to sink more money into a failing system. But unlike Corzine, Christie pushed through tough pension reforms that rolled back overgenerous payment increases, limited payouts for unused sick leave, and enrolled new workers into 401(k)s. He’d also signed a law requiring public employees to pay at least 1.5 percent of their salaries toward their health benefits, which would save the state and local governments hundreds of millions each year.

But what caused the first and most strident wave of opposition to Christie’s agenda was his decision to slash funding for public education, by some $820 million.

…A near-pristine version of Christie’s budget passed at 1:13 a.m. on June 29, less than 24 hours before the constitutional deadline.

…But as significant as his early victories have been, Christie must now turn to pushing the structural reforms that will institutionalize his vision of leaner, meaner state government.

…Even as he was fighting the budget battle, the governor was barnstorming the state to talk up perhaps the most significant of these reforms: his “Cap 2.5” initiative, which would constitutionally limit the ability of municipalities to raise property taxes.

The cap is popular among residents, most of whom pay the preponderance of their non-federal tax liability in property taxes.

…But Christie’s amendment is at the mercy of the Democratic legislature, whose assent is required for a popular referendum on it. …Christie has vowed not to give up the fight.

Other battles loom wherein the governor’s chances for success are highly uncertain. He has promised yet more pension and compensation reforms, moves that could break his tenuous alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic party and push his openly hostile relationship with labor beyond Thunderdome.

…Senator Kean, who hopes to move from minority to majority leader, has confidence that Christie will continue to stick to his guns.

“The governor has an internally strong constitution — that’s who Chris is — and he has an externally strong constitution in the constitution of the State of New Jersey,” Kean says.

“I think he is absolutely the genuine article. That’s why we won’t ever go back to the status quo, at least not under Chris Christie’s governorship.”

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New Jersey’s $10.7 billion budget deficit is the second highest among all U.S. states.  With New Jersey already facing one of the worst economic outlooks in the country according to ALEC’s Rich States, Poor States,” newly elected Governor Christie has promised not to raise taxes.  He’s already once vetoed a new tax on millionaires passed by the New Jersey legislature, but now spend-happy legislators are trying again.

Democrats want to re-impose a one-year tax on millionaires that has been vetoed by Republican Governor Chris Christie. The 10.75 percent tax on income above $1 million would hit 16,000 people, some of them likely to work as financial professionals just across the Hudson River in New York.

…The tax would raise $637 million that the state would use to fund rebate checks of up to $1,295 for some 600,000 senior citizens who would otherwise face steep increases in their property taxes during fiscal 2011.

It’s highly unlikely the tax would raise as much as they project.  A similar soak-the-rich approach to the problem of fiscal irresponsibility backfired in Maryland, which saw high-earners flee the state in droves.  At a time when taxpayers are moving to low-tax states in greater numbers than ever before, state politicians need to find more creative solutions to the fiscal messes they have created than chasing job-producers out of the state.

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