Assembly advances economic relief measures

October 23, 2008 6:02:04 PM PDT
With new data showing that one in every 453 New Jersey homeowners is struggling to make mortgage payments, lawmakers in the state Assembly advanced several measures Thursday that would provide economic relief to state residents and businesses. Some of 19 measures debated by lawmakers were recommended by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in last week's economic address, while others were crafted by lawmakers in response to the economic crisis.

Among the bills the Budget Committee advanced is a $50 million program to revitalize downtown centers by stimulating community investment.

Other measures that advanced Thursday would provide $10 million for utility-bill assistance, $3 million for food pantries and $9.5 million for legal services to low-income residents facing home foreclosures.

Another bill raises to $80,000 the income eligibility ceiling for senior citizens and disabled residents to qualify for property tax relief under the Senior Freeze program over the next three years.

Also advancing was a resolution sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, that pushes the federal government to allow more low-income households to get help paying heating costs by raising the income ceiling for participation. The measure urges the feds to increase the income eligibility level for receiving assistance under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The current guideline of 175 percent of the federal poverty level ($37,100 for a four-person household) would be pushed to 225 percent ($47,700) under the measure. The current federal poverty guideline is an income of $21,200 for a four-person household.

The federal Energy Information Administration estimates heating U.S. homes with oil this winter will cost $450 more than a year ago, nearly 25 percent higher. Gas, propane and electricity costs will also rise, the agency says, though not as much.

New data from RealtyTrac, a California-based data tracking firm, shows New Jersey outpacing the national average for home foreclosures in September. The firms found one in 475 households in default, repossession or scheduled for sheriff's auction nationally, compared with one in 453 homes in New Jersey.

New Jersey ranked eighth in the rate of foreclosure filings in the United States for the three months ending Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, the Assembly's Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee cleared the "Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act," which cracks down on the fraudulent practices of some home foreclosure rescue advisers.

Attorney General Anne Milgram announced this week that she had filed civil lawsuits against two companies and 37 mortgage loan providers for violating the state's Consumer Fraud and RICO statutes. They allegedly used bogus "foreclosure rescue" schemes to convince cash-strapped homeowners to sign over their homes.

The Assembly's Appropriations Committee also gave final approval to a pro-business measure that reshapes how corporate sales made in other states are taxed. It also would eliminate a provision that increases a corporation's taxable net income by New Jersey.

The Senate also took action designed to blunt the impact of the economic crisis on businesses, approving a bill that would increase the amount of time net operating losses can be deducted from a company's business tax.

The bill approved Thursday increases the period in which a business can deduct such losses to 20 years, from the current seven.

"By extending the net-operating loss provisions under the corporate business tax, we're bringing the state's tax law in line with neighboring states, and encouraging and fostering startups in New Jersey," said Sen. Barbara Buono, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.

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