PHILADELPHIA — As political gridlock puts the government at risk of defaulting, President Joe Biden on Thursday made an opening bid with a budget plan that would cut deficits by $2.9 trillion over the next decade — a proposal Republicans already intend to reject.
It’s part of the president’s broader attempt to call out House Republicans who are demanding severe cuts to spending in return for lifting the government’s legal borrowing limit. The GOP has no counteroffer so far, other than a flat “no” to a Biden blueprint with tax increases on the wealthy that could form the policy backbone of Biden’s yet-to-be-declared campaign for reelection in 2024.
Striding around a stage at a union training center in Philadelphia, Biden spoke about his plan for the government’s finances and how his values contrast with Republican priorities.
“I just laid out the bulk of my budget,” Biden said. “Republicans in Congress should do the same thing. Then we can sit down and see where we disagree.”
Yet the president doubted GOP lawmakers could make their numbers match their calls for a balanced budget and he suggested efforts to do so could come at the expense of middle-class families.
“How are they going to make the math work?” Biden said. “What are they going to cut?”
As proposed, Biden’s package of tax and spending priorities is unlikely to pass the GOP-run House or the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim edge.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the president’s proposed deficit reduction was inadequate. “It just seems like it’s going to create the biggest government in history. I don’t think that’s what we need at this time,” he said.
Biden’s 10-year budget largely revolves around taxing the wealthy to help fund programs for the middle class, older adults and families. It would raise $4.7 trillion from higher taxes, with an additional $800 billion in savings from changes to programs.
The tax increases include a reversal of the 2017 tax cuts made by President Donald Trump on people earning more than $400,000 a year.
Biden floated a new 25% minimum tax on households worth $100 million or more. Also, the tax that companies pay on stock buybacks would rise fourfold and those earning more than $400,000 would pay an additional Medicare tax that would help to keep the program solvent beyond the year 2050. Medicare could negotiate on the prices of more prescription drugs, helping to save the government money.
Accompanying that would be $2.6 trillion worth of new spending, including the restoration of the expanded child tax credit that would give families as much as $3,600 per child, compared with the current level of $2,000. That credit would be “fully refundable,” which means households could receive all of that sum even if they don’t owe any taxes. The budget proposal would impose a $35-a-month cap on insulin prices, matching a change Biden already put in place for Medicare recipients.
At a time of increased tensions with Russia and China, the budget shows a decline in military spending as a share of the U.S. economy over the next decade. But federal spending would be equal to roughly one-quarter of economic output as the spending on Social Security and Medicare climbs, essentially keeping the government the same size as it is currently.
The budget would seek to close the “carried interest” loophole that allows wealthy hedge fund managers and others to pay their taxes at a lower rate, and prevent billionaires from being able to set aside large amounts of their holdings in tax-favored retirement accounts. The plan also projects saving $24 billion over 10 years by removing a tax subsidy for cryptocurrency transactions.
By refusing to raise taxes or cut Social Security and Medicare spending, GOP lawmakers face some harsh math that makes it hard to reduce deficits without risking a voter backlash. McCarthy said his plan’s release was pushed back because Biden’s proposal was only now coming out.
With the economy already in a fragile state because of high inflation, if Biden and Congress cannot agree to raise the statutory debt cap of $31.4 trillion by this summer, the government could default on payments and perhaps send the country into a recession.
The budget also shows the shadow of Trump’s legacy, as provisions in his 2017 tax cuts will expire after 2025. Biden wants to eliminate elements of that overhaul, arguing that lower taxes failed to produce the growth Trump promised. But Biden’s budget does not address tax cuts that benefited households making less than $400,000: Their expiration could amount to a tax increase that would violate a pledge by Biden to only raise taxes on the wealthy.
The cost of extending the tax breaks for people making less than $400,000 would be $1.5 trillion, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a senior fellow at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. That would halve the deficit savings being promoted by Biden, but Pomerleau cautioned his estimates might be high because the president’s plan includes the cost of the expanded child tax credit.
In February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the national debt held by the public will grow by more than $20 trillion over the next decade.
Biden's 10-year budget proposal largely revolves around the idea of taxing the wealthy to help fund programs for the middle class, older adult…
TMZ reports that Grohl went to The Hope Mission in L.A. near midnight on Feb. 22 with overnight gear and a meat smoker.
TRENTON — Tammy Brady began her career as an Atlantic City casino dealer at the age of 18. Now 55, she has stage 2 breast cancer.
“While I’m not sure we will ever know the exact cause of my illness, I can’t help but wonder if it would have happened if the casinos hadn’t forced me to work in secondhand smoke,” said Brady, who works at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
Holly Diebler, a craps dealer at Tropicana Atlantic City, is undergoing chemotherapy for throat cancer.
“I don’t even know how long I’m going to live,” she said. “I love my job; I don’t want to leave it. But all my oncologists have told me this is a life-and-death choice.”
They were among numerous casino employees who testified Thursday before two state Assembly committees in favor of a bill that would prohibit smoking in Atlantic City’s nine casinos.
No vote was taken on the bill, as in an identical hearing Feb. 13. Gov. Phil Murphy has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Legislature, but thus far, leaders of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate have not committed to allowing the bill to move forward and be voted upon.
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The bill would close a loophole in the state’s 2006 indoor smoking law. That measure was written specifically to exempt casinos from bans on smoking indoors. Currently, smoking is permitted on 25% of a casino floor in Atlantic City.
“I don’t want to take away your right to kill yourself by smoking,” said Assemblyman Don Guardian, a former mayor of Atlantic City. “I do want to take away your right to kill someone else by smoking in a casino.”
The casino industry opposes a smoking ban, saying it would lose customers and revenue if smoking were banned while still being allowed in casinos in nearby states.
But Andrew Klebenow of Las Vegas-based C3 Gaming said many casinos that have ended smoking are thriving financially, including casinos near Washington, D.C., and Boston, and in Maryland.
Business groups opposed a ban, and Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here casino workers union, predicted that prohibiting smoking would cost the industry 10% of its revenue and cause the closure of at least one casino.
“Down south, there are no other jobs,” he said. “It’s like Hooterville. No one is for cancer. The issue is do we end up closing a casino or not?”
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The Casino Association of New Jersey said the true impact of a smoking ban could be closer to 20% to 25% of casino revenue being lost.
“The Atlantic City casino industry is still very much in a rebuilding and recovery phase from where it was at the start of the pandemic,” its statement read. “Visitation to Atlantic City is near a 20-year low, while gas and toll prices are increasing. Adding a smoking ban could cause a devastating effect to the community and state in this difficult economy.”
Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper at Caesars Atlantic City, said she fears being laid off if smoking is banned and business levels decrease.
“I’m not opposed to smoking; I’m opposed to losing jobs,” she said.
But many more casino workers felt differently.
Every time Robin Vitulle clocks in at her job as a dealer at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, she has the same thought: “Is this the day I inhale the cloud of smoke that gives me cancer? Or is it too late already?”
EGG HARBOR CITY — Police disarmed a woman with a knife and helped her escape her home while it was on fire Monday morning.
Dealers say they are forbidden by their employers from waving the smoke away.
“They say it would embarrass the customer,” said Janice Green, 62, a craps dealer at Tropicana. “I think, ‘You mean the customer that’s killing me?’”
Whether to ban smoking is one of the most controversial issues not only in Atlantic City, but in casinos in other states where workers have expressed concern about secondhand smoke. They are waging similar campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The issue is among the most divisive in Atlantic City, where even though casino revenue matched its all-time high of $5.2 billion last year, only half that amount was won from in-person gamblers. The other half was won online and must be shared with third parties including tech platforms and sports books.
Just three of the nine casinos — Borgata, Ocean Casino Resort and Resorts Casino Hotel — surpassed their pre-pandemic revenue levels in terms of money won from in-person gamblers last year.
Support for a smoking ban is widespread among New Jersey lawmakers, with a bipartisan majority in both chambers.
The bill needs to be voted upon in committees of the Senate and Assembly, then voted on by the full membership of those legislative bodies before going to the governor. Those hearings and votes have not yet been scheduled.
BRIGANTINE — The north end of the island will get some much needed help in addressing its erosion issues this spring.
The Brigantine Beachfill Shore Protection project will repair the beaches between the Brigantine Inlet and the Great Egg Harbor Inlet from late May to early June.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the island agreed to start the project during last week’s City Council meeting.
“It’s definitely moving forward, and like I said, I think one of the things that’s really great about this project is we have a really strong relationship with the Army Corps and the NJDEP,” said Mayor Vince Sera. “And I know they do a good job of making sure that we’re in a good position to get these projects done and completed in a reasonable amount of time.”
Sera said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does these types of projects every six to eight years to put sand back on the beaches that has been lost due to storms and weathering.
The project, which started in 2006, consists of berm and dune restoration along 1.8 miles of coastline fronting the northern third of the city. Additional beach replenishments took place in 2011, 2013 and 2018, according to the Army Corps.
BRIGANTINE — The city's St. Patrick's Day parade is being postponed as forecasts predict rainy weather Saturday.
The beach fill will give the barrier island natural protection against storms. It will also refill the dunes, giving added protection to homeowners, especially those who live in the north end of the island where there’s no seawall.
“That north end of the island, to about the seawall to Roosevelt (Avenue), really kind of takes a beating in the storms; and right now, I guess as of last summer, there was almost no sand left,” Sera said, noting the Public Works Department did a heroic job of trying to keep what sand they had in place by repairing and restoring the beach pads so people could have access. “But we’re at the point where you just can’t do it anymore. So this beach fill will kind of refill all of that area.”
Brigantine's fourth beach renourishment calls for 1.8 million cubic yards of sand being placed on the city’s north end, which is projected to cost a total of $18,932,000.
The state government will pay 65% share of such costs projected to be $12,305,800. The Department of Environmental Protection and Brigantine will split the rest of the non-federal tab, projected to be $6,626,200.
The Department of Environmental Protection will pay most of the share at $4,969,650 and Brigantine will pay the other quarter of $1,656,550, which the city will agree to fund at next Wednesday's council meeting.
“I guess when the project was first put together the funding that they had set up for the project was based on what they expected it to cost,” said Sera. “In a pre-construction meeting the Army Corps had let us know that what the mobilization, I guess getting all the equipment and all that stuff in place, those bids had come in significantly higher for other projects; and that we should request through Van Drew an additional $5 million towards the project to cover all of the costs.”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, requested an additional $5 million for the island’s beach fill, which the DEP accepted and added to the project this week, Sera said.
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The mayor said the city decided to do the beach fill at the beginning of the tourism season so people could enjoy the beach for the rest of summer.
“The alternative is they would not have been able to schedule it until late fall and we would have missed the entire summer season,” said Sera. “So we felt that it was better to have them come in and maybe lose the beginning of the season to really take advantage and have it through the middle of the summer to the end of summer.”
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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Beginning in May, a trained mental health worker will respond to some calls with police officers in Middle and Lower townships, according to the Middle Township Police Department’s annual report.
In 2021, State Police began a pilot program in Cumberland County, pairing troopers with a mental health professional to respond to mental health or behavioral health crises. The program has been expanded, including here and in Atlantic City.
The intent of the Arrive Together program is to reduce violent interactions, and to provide safer options.
Supporters call the program a transformation in the way New Jersey approaches law enforcement. In announcing the expansion of the program in February, officials said it is safer for the public, and for police officers.
“The pilots have served hundreds of individuals in distress who come into contact with law enforcement,” the Middle Township report states.
Released this month, the Police Department’s 60-page annual report outlines details of police operations, offering information on the good and the bad, including a section on officers who faced disciplinary action in 2022.
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The report also touts security plans for township schools and the completion of training by officers, leading to a recommendation that the department again be accredited.
The report states that police are working to address “a slight increase” in criminal activity and in complaints related to quality-of-life issues, including homelessness.
“As a result, we are taking the following steps: increased overtime details, launching a new partnership with Volunteers of America to embed two social service navigators into the department and have a trained mental health worker respond into the field through a state grant,” reads the report’s executive summary.
The state grant was made possible in collaboration with Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland and the Lower Township Police Department.
The report also details work with Volunteers of America’s “Immediate Mobilization of Police Assisted Crisis Teams,” or IMPACT, in which teams respond to referrals from officers, which can include meeting with individuals at the department or with people in custody at the county jail.
Several other changes impacted the department last year.
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In 2022, Middle Township police closed their communications center and transitioned to the Cape May County Central Dispatch Center for emergency calls.
Police also adopted new policies after the U.S. Supreme Court found New Jersey’s standards for permits to carry concealed firearms were unconstitutional.
The department has faced a challenging few years. Soon after the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 in 2020, along with Black Lives Matter protests held in the township and around the country, the department had to adjust to the legalization of marijuana and changes in how officers deal with juvenile suspects.
September saw thousands of people pour into the area to participate in an unsanctioned car rally, one that stretched the police response in Middle Township and resulted in fatal accidents in neighboring Wildwood.
Police Chief Christopher Leusner unveiled the report at a meeting of the Middle Township Chamber of Commerce during which Mayor Tim Donohue also presented the State of the Township address. It includes a proposal for a regional response to future similar events, and said officials in multiple jurisdictions are already working together.
“The city of Wildwood Police Department is in the process of arranging a regional exercise to assist in preparing for another H20i car rally if they try to return this year,” reads the report under a section on proposals for 2023. “We will continue to work with our partners and ensure a quick comprehensive regional response if necessary.”
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The annual report addresses continuing police efforts to engage with youth in the community, building on efforts begun in 2018.
Those efforts include an annual police youth camp, set for its fifth year this summer, and an effort to keep educators informed when children experience traumatic events.
The report showed 39,375 calls for service in 2022 and 748 arrests, both increases over the previous year. There were fewer indictable complaints than the year before, at 454.
The report showed one murder reported in the township last year, and five reports of rape. The department investigated 83 missing persons or runaways, and investigated 66 deaths. There were 559 incidents of domestic violence in the same year, a reduction from 2021.
Police employees were involved in seven vehicle crashes, with three of those occurring when a vehicle struck a parked police car and one in which a motorcycle hit a parked police car. In one incident, in March, a police car was hit by another vehicle, and another in June saw a police car hitting a vehicle.
There were 39 incidents in which officers used force. Of those, 31 people were arrested and eight were injured, according to the report. Two officers were injured, a reduction from 2021, when nine were injured.
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There were two car chases, one of which resulted in a crash.
The report also included 20 internal affairs complaints, most of which were declared unfounded or were not sustained.
In one incident, an officer faced charges. Officer Joshua Bryan was charged with witness tampering. He resigned from the department.
The report also included notable cases from the department’s street crimes unit, including an investigation that began in 2021 and resulted in police seizing methamphetamine, heroin, suboxone, cash and a 20-guage shotgun from a trailer in Burleigh. In another, on July 11, police reported finding hundreds of prescription pills, along with cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, as well as an AR-15 style rifle with a fully loaded magazine.
The report indicates drugs were being distributed from the Rio Grande residence.
Contact Bill Barlow: