The lobbying push for Gov. Phil Murphy’s income, sales and corporate tax hikes was stepped up a bit Wednesday, with the Department of Environmental Protection’s leader cautioning lawmakers that even flat funding for her department depends on those taxes passing.

Acting Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe told the Assembly Budget Committee gave the example of a lake in Parvin State Park – incidentally, in the legislative district represented by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and committee member Assemblyman John Burzichelli, both D-Gloucester – that might be closed this summer, if the state lacks the money to hire lifeguards.

“If we have a lesser budget than what is proposed, that among others will become one of our extremely hard choices,” McCabe said.

“We can continue to do it with the budget as proposed, but without the new sources of revenue that were included in the budget, frankly I’m worried,” she said.

Murphy is proposing around $1.6 billion in tax increases, affecting the sales tax, some business taxes, income over $1 million and legalized marijuana. To support the tax hikes and proposed increases in state spending, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance has dispatched a Monopoly-style Mr. Money Bags – actually Jim Tobias of Matawan in costume – to sit through the budget hearings. On Wednesday, between hearings, he was on West State Street attempting to hand out information to passers-by critical of recent federal tax changes.

“Instituting the millionaires' tax and the corporate tax and other things that increase our revenue might be the way to go to improve the state for everybody from the super-rich such as myself to whatever it is you people are,” said the in-character Tobias.

Proposed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection is basically unchanged from what was approved last July, though it’s down 12 percent compared with current midyear spending that includes additions for things like purchasing open space. Environmentalists are critical of the drop, as well as the pace for having New Jersey rejoin a climate-change compact with other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

McCabe said she has another negotiating session Thursday with the other states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative but that the agreement on the details will probably take months to reach.

She said at that point, the state can begin what’s likely to be a year-long process of developing and adopting the rules for the program, in which a tax is levied on carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, with the proceeds used to pay for renewable-energy efforts.

“My timeline would be tomorrow, but it depends largely on the nine other states that we need to negotiate with,” McCabe said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said it could happen a lot faster through an emergency rule that takes 90 days, given that New Jersey was in the program until 2012, the point at which then-Gov. Chris Christie withdrew the state.

“It shouldn’t take this long. And every day of delay means that we’re losing out on reducing air pollution and losing out on money and economic benefit from RGGI,” Tittel said.

Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, told McCabe that that so long as Pennsylvania is home to coal-powered plants and doesn’t participate in the climate-change emissions tax program, New Jersey gets the pollution, higher electric costs and fewer employers.

“We need to somehow either convince our friends on the other side of the river to get on board or walk at that as well, because we could end up losing jobs to Pennsylvania and have the same air-quality issues,” DiMaio said.

McCabe said RGGI has only a marginal impact on electric rates.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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