Gov. Chris Christie would surely veto the plan, but Democrats could enact it themselves, because the governor plays no role in amending the constitution. A majority vote in the Legislature two years in a row puts it on the ballot for voters to decide. Under Greenwald’s plan, that would happen in 2013, just in time for the next gubernatorial election. He discussed it with Tom Moran, editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger. An edited transcript appears below.
Q. Let’s look first at your property tax plan, compared with the plan offered by Senate Democrats: Yours offers twice the rebate and includes a surtax on income over $1 million. Do you think the governor would sign a plan like that, or are you trying to make a point?
A. The governor is very practical. If he sees the possibility of a referendum on the “millionaires tax” that is overwhelmingly popular, he will see the writing on the wall. He can either stand in the way of relief for the middle class for the next two years, or he can embrace shared sacrifice.
Q. So this is a way to get it done without his signature, by referendum?
A. The referendum is a fallback. That would happen only if he doesn’t sign it. But if we pass it by referendum, as a constitutional amendment, we wouldn’t need his signature.
Q. Why should we set tax rates in the constitution?
A. This is about addressing a crisis, the burdensome property tax, which discriminates against the young, senior citizens and middle-class families.
Q. So under this plan, the rate would be set in stone in the constitution, right?
A. There would be a rate increase from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent, on income over $1 million. And it would direct the proceeds to property tax relief. But we don’t have to go to those lengths if the governor would just sign the Assembly plan.
Q. So the idea is the governor might prefer to sign this plan rather than face a referendum he would lose, right?
Q. Your plan would provide relief equal to 20 percent of the property tax bill, right?
A. Yes. And 25 percent for seniors and disabled. It would cover 95 percent of taxpayers, those with incomes up to $250,000 a year.
Q. The governor believes raising taxes on incomes over $1 million would discourage investments and kill jobs. You disagree?
A. The evidence shows that is nothing but partisan rhetoric.
Q. What evidence?
A. Since the original surtax on income over $500,000 went into effect, we have roughly doubled the number of filers in that category. And this would affect only an even wealthier group. They are not impacted until they make $1 million, plus $1.
Q. How much would that raise?
A. Roughly $800 million.
Q. That won’t give you enough for a 20 percent rebate, right? How would you cover the rest of the costs?
A. The plans from the governor and Senate Democrats cost $1.4 billion. We add to that with the surtax, and by shifting over roughly $500 million from the rebate programs.
Q. Why is your plan better than the governor’s 10 percent cut in income taxes?
A. The governor’s plan would give the average family in New Jersey roughly $50 this year. Ours would give them $1,000 this year.
Q. On another topic: Charter school advocates are deeply concerned about the Assembly bill that would require a referendum to open a charter school. They say the teachers union has much more political heft than any individual charter school, so this is basically a poison pill to kill the movement. What’s your answer?
A. I think the movement has been misdirected by this administration. Opening charter schools in Cherry Hill and other suburban districts where the schools are very successful is a waste of resources.
Why not go 3 miles away to Camden and open charters there, and give those families a choice they currently don’t have? Those children are prisoners of poverty.
Q. Final question: What is your latest thinking about challenging Gov. Chris Christie in 2013?
A. I could kick his butt ... in a game of HORSE.