Assembly speaker: Middle-class parents need that $500 rebate check

With a tax cut for nearly 800,000 middle-class and working families and a millionaires tax, we're leveling the playing field in New Jersey.

We are thankful for the leadership and partnership of Governor Phil Murphy, Senator Steve Sweeney and Speaker Craig Coughlin for giving their all in this fight for the middle-class and working families.

By Craig Coughlin

Middle-class families in New Jersey are hurting. The Trump Administration’s assault on the middle-class in our state – from its deliberate repeal of the SALT deduction to the president’s refusal to help the millions of unemployed residents of our state – has created unprecedented pain. Many of our residents have lost their jobs during this global pandemic. Parents are wondering how they will be able to afford college tuition or school supplies for their children, even as they worry about being able to afford care for their own elderly parents.

These are the concerns I hear every single day from my neighbors in Woodbridge and across the state. Too many of us are at a breaking point and look to government for help. And that is exactly why I fought so hard to ensure that working middle-class families would receive a tax break as I negotiated this year’s state budget.

Thanks to the agreement that I was able to strike with the governor and the state senate, over 1 million middle-class taxpayers with children will receive a $500 rebate check late next summer. That money will help to buy clothes, textbooks and other back-to-school necessities for millions of kids. It will provide real and tangible relief to New Jerseyans at a time when many of them cannot anticipate what next year will bring for their personal financial outlook.

At the same time, I insisted that senior rebates and assistance for those in financial need was included in this budget at significant levels.

There has been much intellectual discussion over whether now is the right time to provide a tax break to middle-class New Jerseyans. After all, the COVID-19 crisis has decimated our state budget, necessitating the borrowing of billions of dollars to fund basic operations of state government. Relief from Washington does not appear to be forthcoming.

But for the single mother making $60,000 per year, this $500 rebate may make the difference in being able to pay for after-school activities for her son. For the family struggling with college expenses, this $500 may make the difference in their daughter being able to pay for her textbooks. These families are squeezed every single day, in every single way. To them, this relief is not academic. It is a necessity.

To afford this middle-class tax break, we are asking the wealthiest among us to pay a higher rate for every dollar they earn over $1 million. I do not make the decision to raise taxes on anyone lightly – even on those who are the most financially secure and could best afford it. For me, any agreement to hike the millionaires' tax had to be inextricably tied to relief for middle-class parents. It is one thing to tell our constituents that we hear them. It is another to do something tangible to help them.

Even before the global COVID pandemic hit, New Jersey had to contend with fiscal problems accumulated over decades. Our state pension remained underfunded.

New Jersey Transit was in shambles, left decimated by years of neglect. Too many of our residents go to bed hungry each night. Property taxes continue to drive too many people out of their homes.

None of these problems is intractable, though collectively it may appear that they are. But as we work to address these issues, I hear every day from middle-class New Jerseyans that they cannot wait. They need relief now – not five years from now. This is why I insisted, in my first budget negotiations as speaker, that we protect the Homestead Benefit Program, which provides property tax relief to middle-class New Jersey families and seniors. That is why I made addressing the epidemic of hunger across our state my top priority from the day I became speaker. Our constituents are tired of hearing platitudes about good days ahead. They need tangible help today.

Decades of difficult and poor policy decisions have served to hollow out the middle class across this country. The assault on organized labor, tax policies benefiting corporations and the skyrocketing cost of higher education have all made it increasingly difficult for middle-class families to get by. But as we tackle these challenges – and we must – we should also provide our constituents with the help they need to meet everyday challenges: the cost of ballet classes, equipment for a travel sports team, gas to carpool to Little League events.

Delaying relief for middle-class families while we grapple with the large-scale challenges facing our state is no longer acceptable. Our neighbors have been told to be patient for far too long. They have entrusted us with their votes and their government. It’s time we return their faith in us by tangibly and meaningfully helping them as they navigate life in these uncertain economic times.

Assemblyman Craig Coughlin is the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly.