PoliticoNewJersey- Gov. Chris Christie said explicitly on Wednesday that legislation to phase out the estate tax over five years is not aggressive enough and that he was “unlikely” to raise taxes before leaving office.
“I haven't signed a tax increase in over six-and-a-half years,” Christie said on his monthly radio show, “Ask the Governor” on New Jersey 101.5. “I'm unlikely to.”
While he hasn’t raised taxes, the governor hasn’t stood in the way of toll and fare increases by the Port Authority of New Jersey and New Jersey, NJ Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
And despite his resistance to new taxes, when asked directly by a caller if he would refuse to raise the state’s 14.5-cent tax on gasoline, the governor balked and repeated his demand for balance.
“I’ve said all along, I’m willing to discuss anything with the Democrats, but there has to be tax fairness,” he said.
Christie even moved in the direction of justifying an increase in the gas tax. Speaking to caller who urged him to allow tolls on interstate highways, Christie said the gas tax has a similar benefit of being paid in part by out-of-state drivers
“Estimates are somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of the gas tax would be paid by out-of-staters,” Christie said. “You're getting at the same kind of thing. You're trying to skin the cat, just in a different way.”
While some might read that as sign of progress in the race to finding a steady revenue stream for the nearly-insolvent Transportation Trust Fund, the governor also criticized one of the key “tax fairness” proposals being offered by Democrats in the Legislature. Christie said a bill that would require a five-year phase-out of the estate tax falls short of his goals.
“It’s much too long,” he said.
The measure is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo and Republican Sen. Steven Oroho. On Tuesday, Sarlo said it was one of three components of a tax-fairness package that would also include a new tax exemption for some forms of charitable giving and a break on retirement income.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said earlier in the week that he could also support a phase-out of the estate tax as part of a bigger deal on the TTF.
The governor emphasized that, in the context of tax fairness, “it’s important for Sen. Sarlo and the speaker and others who are talking about this to know” he wants a shorter time frame. The estate tax generates about $550 million in annual revenue for the state. And even though Christie called for it to be eliminated several times, his proposed budget for the next fiscal year relies on that revenue.
As for the other pieces of Sarlo’s package, he said a charitable giving write-off is a “good idea” but he seem to be critical of the retirement income bill, noting it would give a tax break to those who have public pensions.
“Notice, though, they immediately want to eliminate the tax on pensions,” Christie said, inaccurately. “There’s no phase-out on that.”
There actually is a phase-out included in that legislation (S998), which advanced out of the Senate Budget Committee in February along with the estate tax bill (S1932). Or, more precisely, it's a phase-in of a higher exemption threshold — not an outright elimination of the tax. It would take place over three years.
It would also not be nearly as expensive as losing the estate tax revenue. The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services estimates that increasing the retirement income thresholds as high as $100,000 for married couples result in a revenue loss of between $80 million and $125 million once fully phased in during the 2020 fiscal year.
As for the broader negotiations over the Transportation Trust Fund, Christie said he was still unwilling to make any new proposal and said it was up to lawmakers to lead.
“They want me to negotiate against myself,” Christie said. “I’m not that stupid. They want me to raise the gas tax. Not me.”
He kept the window open, though.
“I do not want to raise the gas tax. I said that all along,” he said. “But if they put a package in front of me that looks like tax fairness, I said I’d look at it. Because I want to be fair. I want to be open minded.”