- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. President Bush yesterday took his tax-cut message to a state where the high cost of living puts average families into the nation's highest tax brackets, hoping to secure the support of a key Senate Democrat.

While other Democrats claim Mr. Bush's across-the-board tax cut favors the wealthy, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli said taxpayers in his state are mischaracterized as rich.

"In New Jersey, the costs of living are unusually high. Estate and local property taxes, the cost of housing, the cost of college education are all higher in New Jersey. Here in New Jersey, we have to be a little bit sensitive about what it means to be middle income," said Mr. Torricelli, who could hold the swing vote on the Senate Finance Committee.

New Jersey has the third-highest median household income in the country at $49,826, behind only Alaska and Maryland, according to the 2000 census. Many in the state earn more than that annually, and Mr. Torricelli told the president he wants families that make $60,000 to $100,000 to receive larger tax reductions.

"I told him I want a little suburban sensitivity," said Mr. Torricelli, who accompanied Mr. Bush on Air Force One from Washington. "With that, he's more likely to get support for the tax cut… . To get the support of people like myself, we need to be a little more sensitive to the cost of living in these suburbs."

Although the first-term senator voted with his Democratic colleagues 91 percent of the time in 1999, Mr. Torricelli appears ready to back the president's plan. New Jersey's other senator, freshman Jon Corzine, on the other hand, appears ready to oppose the tax-cut package.

"As the president's plan is now, I think I would vote against it. I think with the economy slipping as it is, it is a dangerously weak proposal," said Mr. Corzine, a Democrat who spent about $60 million of his own wealth to win his seat last year.

Mr. Corzine said the Bush tax-cut plan which over 10 years would allow taxpayers in all brackets to keep nearly $1.6 trillion of their own money would return just $5 billion in the first year.

He said a plan he and Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, offered last week would allow taxpayers to keep as much as $65 billion in the first year simply by immediately creating a new 10 percent tax bracket for lower-income Americans.

"We are not against a tax cut, but the president's proposal will do nothing for the economy now. It puts money in only during years three, four and five," Mr. Corzine said.

The Graham-Corzine plan would return $700 billion over 10 years. Mr. Bush's proposal would return more than twice that.

With the House having passed the first phase of the tax-cut plan, Republicans and Democrats in the evenly split Senate are playing the numbers game. Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, has backed the plan, but Republican Sens. James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island have both voiced opposition.

Since Mr. Jeffords is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee which will soon take up the matter the president is looking to lock in Mr. Torricelli's support and put pressure on Mr. Corzine.

"I have been most pleased with the comments Senator Torricelli has been making," Mr. Bush told a hotel gathering of local chamber of commerce members.

"I don't want to single anybody out," he said to applause and laughter. "No one vote is more important than any other vote. But he has shown a lot of common sense as far as I'm concerned."

Mr. Bush echoed Mr. Torricelli's theme when he said: "Those who would like to leave your money in Washington try to make us feel bad about cutting the top rate" from 39.6 percent to 33 percent. "But … cutting that top rate is an infusion of capital for the small-business owner in America and it makes good economic sense."

Mr. Bush's latest trip to sell his tax-cut plan came as Wall Street again stumbled, with the Dow closing below 10,000 for the first time in nearly five months.

In addition, a new poll shows taxes have jumped to the No. 1 issue for Americans, with 18 percent of those surveyed in a CBS-New York Times poll ranking taxes as the most important problem, ahead of education (10 percent), Social Security and Medicare (8 percent).

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