NJ ranked among highest-taxed states

NorthJersey.com 01/21/2016

In a ranking that will surprise no one who has ever paid a tax bill, New Jersey landed near the top in a list of high-tax states released Wednesday. According to the Tax Foundation, 12.2 percent of all income in New Jersey went toward state and local taxes in fiscal 2012. That tax burden was the third-highest in the nation, right behind New York and Connecticut. New Jersey has consistently ranked near the top in terms of taxes paid going back to the 1970s. That is in large part because it also consistently ranks among the nation’s wealthiest and highest-cost states. In 2014, according to census figures, New Jersey had a median household income of about $72,000, second-highest in the nation, after Maryland. Looking for the lowest taxes? Go to Alaska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

The Tax Foundation, a right-leaning tax policy research organization, ranked the states according to state and local taxes paid. On average, Americans paid about 10 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2012, the foundation said. Since 1977, that percentage has moved within a narrow range of about 9.4 percent to 10.5 percent. Economists say that wealthier places tend to pay a higher share of their incomes in taxes, because affluent people are generally more willing to pay for a higher level of public services, such as better schools and roads. In addition, wealthier taxpayers are more likely to face capital gains taxes.

Gordon MacInnes, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank, said states with a high cost of living, such as New Jersey, must pay public workers more. “If police make $35,000 in Wyoming and $80,000 in New Jersey, that’s reflected in higher taxes, because we want our cops and teachers to live near their jobs,” he said. State tax rankings, MacInnes said, do not “reflect very accurately how well states do in creating jobs and opportunities for their residents.” Wednesday’s ranking included a wide range of taxes, including property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, individual income taxes, corporate income taxes and estate taxes.

Another Natural-Gas Power Plant for New Jersey, Courtesy of Genesis Power

NJspotlight.com 01/21/2016

New Jersey may be getting another natural-gas-fired power plant thanks to a project that would be built in Hillsborough Township, if it can obtain the necessary approvals. The $1 billion project would be big enough to supply power to 700,000 homes during summer months, according to a website on the proposed facility, the Amwell Energy Center. Genesis Power LLC is the developer of the project. The proposal is the latest natural-gas power plant suggested for New Jersey, which has encouraged their development in recent years under policies adopted by the Christie administration. Four other gas units have been built, planned, or are under construction in West Deptford, Woodbridge, Newark, and Sewaren.

With plentiful supplies of natural gas being extracted in neighboring Pennsylvania and other states, the fuel is growing in use, especially as older coal-fired plants are retired, unable to comply with tougher environmental regulations to curb emissions into the air. Although cleaner than coal, natural gas is not backed by some environmentalists, who fear the spate of investments in the sector could siphon off money that otherwise might be directed to renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects. “What we see happening is we are awash in natural-gas electricity,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The abundance of the gas projects is a consequence of the expansion of natural gas pipelines in the state, he said. At least 15 pipeline projects are under consideration in New Jersey.

The Hillsborough project, expected be about 640 megawatts, is situated to take advantage of that boom. Its site is at the intersection of three Texas Eastern interstate gas pipelines, as well as high-voltage electric transmission lines. Having both reduces costly upgrades that would be necessary, but lessen their overall impact on the environment. The company said the project would generate 800 construction jobs during peak periods, and employ about 30 full-time workers during operation. The company has not applied yet for any permits from state and local agencies with oversight over the project. Amwell Energy Center, however, recently applied to the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine the location of wetlands on the 423-acre site, along Amwell and Hamilton Roads. The gas project will be located on 10 percent to 15 percent of the larger parcel, according to the website. This past June, Newark-based PSEG Power acquired a 755-megawatt natural-gas plant from Genesis Power in Prince George County in Maryland. The facility is expected to be operational in 2018.

PSEG Solar Puts Down $110 Million to Buy Two Solar-Energy Systems out West

NJspotlight.com 01/21/2016

PSEG Solar Source is spending close to $110 million to acquire two facilities in California and Utah. The latter, once it’s finished, will be twice as large as any of the other 14 grid-size solar systems in which the company holds an ownership stake the acquisitions will increase to more than 214 megawatts of capacity the company’s solar portfolio. PSEG Solar Source is a subsidiary of PSEG Power, which is part of the Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group. The subsidiary develops, builds, owns, and operates large-scale solar facilities outside the franchise territory of Public Service Electric & Gas, which is also owned by PSEG. It has solar projects in 10 states, including one in New Jersey, the PSEG Mars Hackettstown Solar Garden, and a 2.2-megawatt facility adjacent to Mars Snackfood’s U.S. headquarters.

PSEG has invested heavily in promoting solar power, not only from PSEG Solar Source, but also from its regulated utility. Three years ago, PSE&G won approval to spend nearly a half a billion dollars on solar projects, including developing solar farms on landfills and brownfields, former manufacturing sites that were vacant. None of those projects come anywhere near the size of a proposed 62.7-megawatt solar facility in Millard County, Utah. The project is located on 415 acres about 110 miles south of Salt Lake City. The project has a 20-year power-purchase agreement with PacifiCorp and its commercial operations are expected to start at the end of the year. It is projected to produce enough power to serve about 46,000 homes in Utah. “We are excited to add such a large-scale solar installation to our fleet and extend our presence in Utah, providing safe, clean, and reliable energy for so many residents,’’ said Diana Drysdale, president of PSEG Solar Source.

The other facility acquired by the company is a 3.9-megawatt solar project under construction by juwi Inc., which is also building the California installation on the grounds of Livermore National Laboratory, about 45 miles east of San Francisco. It is scheduled to go into service in the first quarter of 2016 and also has a power purchase agreement of 20 years. Besides Utah, California, and New Jersey, PSEG Solar Source has facilities in Maryland, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Vermont.

Atlantic City mayor threatens bankruptcy amid state takeover talk

NJ.com 01/21/2016

A day after Gov. Chris Christie rejected a package of rescue bills designed to provide financial aid to ailing Atlantic City, officials from the Jersey Shore gambling resort said they are considering asking the state to let the city file for bankruptcy. It’s the latest development in an ongoing battle over how to save Atlantic City, which has seen four casinos close and more than 10,000 jobs lost over the last two years amid ever-growing competition from gambling halls in nearby states. Mayor Don Guardian said he will hold an emergency meeting with the city council next week to discuss the prospects of bankruptcy. “It would be good from a financial point for Atlantic City to file bankruptcy,” Guardian said at the Statehouse after meeting with state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto about the resort’s troubles. “We’d come out with a clean slate.”

But whether Atlantic City would even be allowed to file for bankruptcy is uncertain. The state must approve such a move, and Christie has been talking with top New Jersey lawmakers about a plan to avoid bankruptcy by having the state take over the city’s finances. Guardian and city officials have opposed a takeover, saying they don’t trust the state’s ability to handle the matter. But some New Jersey leaders say the state needs to assume control because the local government hasn’t done enough to combat its money problems. Such a takeover seemed more likely Monday after Christie vetoed three bills aimed to give a boost to the city — even though they included changes that he asked the state Legislature to include. The measures would have let Atlantic City’s casinos make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years, as well as redirected casino investment taxes and marketing money to help the resort erase debt.

The move left Atlantic City with a $33.5 million hole in its municipal budget. And emergency manager appointed by Christie said in his final report released Friday that the resort could run out of money by April without the aid. Kevin Lavin’s report, however, stopped short of suggesting bankruptcy. Instead, it recommended both massive cuts and a proposal for the city to regionalize or privatize government departments. City Council President Marty Small suggested Christie vetoed the aid package to push along takeover legislation introduced by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney. If approved by the state Legislature and signed by the governor, the plan would allow the state to assume control of the city’s finances for 15 years. “Atlantic City government has been given over five years and two city administrations to deal with its structural budget issues and excessive spending. It has not,” Roberts said in a statement. “The governor is not going to ask the taxpayers to continue to be enablers in this waste and abuse.”

Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said Wednesday that the mayor’s bankruptcy suggestion is “the worst possible outcome for Atlantic City and for the state of New Jersey.” He said it could hurt New Jersey’s other cities and result in credit downgrades and higher costs, as well as damage to the city’s schools. “My goal is to save Atlantic City and to avoid bankruptcy,” Sweeney, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year, said in a statement. “That is why state intervention is the best way to bring the city’s finances under control and why swift action is needed. Too much time has been lost to inaction and denial.”

NJ transportation funding plan coming soon, says lawmakers

NJ1015.com 01/18/2016

Will this be the year that state lawmakers finally solve New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis? It’s been known for years in New Jersey’s political circles that the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is on pace to run out of money for capital projects on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Lawmakers have repeatedly claimed that a plan to replenish the fund was coming, but a plan has yet to be revealed. It looks like we may finally be getting somewhere though. Last week, top Democrats in the Legislature said a funding solution announcement really is imminent now. State Sen. President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto said they continue to work together on a TTF plan, and they have been for some time. When asked when the pair would go public with their proposal, Sweeney said the end is near.

“I’m going to sit down with him (Prieto) because we really are very close,” said Sweeney (D-Thorofare). “I know everyone keeps saying it, but we really are.” The final sticking point, according to Sweeney and Prieto, is how much funding would be done through borrowing and how much the state would pay. Any plan would require the agreement of Gov. Chris Christie. “It really takes three to tango on this one,” said Prieto (D-Secaucus). There is another issue. Christie is running for president and is not likely to agree to a gas tax increase, which Prieto and Sweeney admitted is almost sure to be included in their plan. “One of the biggest concerns I have is he (Christie) has signed a pledge of no taxes. We don’t want taxes either, but we can’t ignore the fact that you actually have to fix the roads and bridges and it’s going to cost something somewhere,” Sweeney said. “No one is going to fix the bridges with a wand. We really, truly believe we need a $2 billion (a year) transportation plan.”

Several times in the recent past, the governor has said everything would be on the table and he’d listen to any ideas that were presented to him, but if they included tax increases there would also have to be “tax fairness.” Most people took that to mean there would have to be offsetting tax cuts. Prieto said he’s prepared to agree to a compromise. “I’ve made the difficult call for a gas tax increase to fund transportation because it’s the right thing to do for our state,” Prieto said. “No one wants to pay more at the pump, but the alternative is much more costly and I support coupling it with ideas such as phasing out New Jersey’s estate tax to match the national level, and finding ways to exempt retirement income from the income tax. I’ve been ready to compromise. Let’s get it done.”