- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey residents carry the highest tax burden in the country after new accounting standards that allow unfunded pension and benefit costs to be factored in, according to a study released Monday.

State residents carry a $52,300 tax load, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Truth in Accounting. That’s above the next closest states of Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts. Neighboring New York comes in at No. 8 in the survey, while Pennsylvania has the 11th highest burden.

The figure represents the amount of money needed for the state to meet its obligations, divided by the number of taxpayers in New Jersey. Truth in Accounting determined how much money is needed by subtracting the state’s bills from its available assets. The organization’s researchers relied on 2014 financial reports from each state to make its calculations.

The study did not factor in local property tax burdens, which frequently are among the highest in the country.

Truth in Accounting CEO Sheila Weinberg said New Jersey tops the list because the state’s $140 billion in unfunded pension and retirement benefit costs are being factored in for the first time under new accounting standards.

Weinberg said the state’s ranking shows that while officials say they’ve balanced budgets in reality the taxpayer burden is often greater than what appears in the annual budget.

Gov. Chris Christie heralds a pension reform deal reached in 2011 on the Republican presidential campaign trail, saying the state made “difficult decisions” to overhaul the system.

But after New Jersey had a surprise revenue shortfall last year, Christie’s administration balanced the books almost entirely by reducing pension contributions. In June, after unions sued, the state Supreme Court found that it could not order the administration to make the full pension payments, largely because doing so would violate a provision of the state constitution that blocks the current Legislature from saddling future ones with debt.

The court made it clear, however, that the state is still responsible for fulfilling its pension promises to workers.

The states in which taxpayers face surpluses rather than burdens include Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and South Dakota.

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