TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblyman Brian Bergen, a former Apache pilot in Operation Iraqi Freedom, argued that Democrat-sponsored legislation in the Assembly on Thursday didn’t provide ample benefits for service-disabled veterans.
“I’m standing up before you today, because I believe what we are doing here today is not enough,” Bergen (R-Morris) said. “Times have even gotten a little more difficult for people. Inflation is up. Gas prices are significantly up. I truly believe that everything we do in this body for veterans should always be best in class.”
Prior to the Assembly voting on a bill (A1477) to increase N.J.’s annual payments to blind and paralyzed veterans and their surviving spouses to $1,800 from $750, Bergen noted that Delaware pays their disabled veterans $3,000 annually. He moved a hostile amendment increasing payments in the blind veterans’ and the paraplegic and hemiplegic veterans’ allowance programs to match the amount veterans receive in the First State.
Democrats tabled Bergen’s motion to increase the payments. The first measure passed unanimously.
Bergen then implored lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to pass his bill (A888) extending property tax discounts to more service-disabled veterans.
“This bill is so unbelievably important. Too often we approach veterans issues by helping here and helping there and trying to solve little problem after little problem. And we don’t go big enough to actually help veterans help themselves,” Bergen said. “This bill is laser focused on putting the money in the hands of those people most in need. This bill forever changes the lives of at least 40,000 of the disabled veterans that reside here in the state of New Jersey.”
The bill gives veterans a discount that matches their military disability rating and reimburses municipalities for the cost of the exemption. Currently in New Jersey, only veterans who are 100% disabled can qualify for a property tax exemption. Under Bergen’s bill, if a veteran is 70% disabled, they would only be responsible to pay 30% of the property tax bill.
He had asked Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Chairwoman Cleopatra Tucker to post the bill for consideration in the committee, but she never responded to three written requests, despite the measure having 52 Assembly sponsors.
“This is where the rubber meets the road. Will you support vets or not? Do you put your name on bills as sponsors and co-sponsors so that you can glad-hand people at the VFW and the American Legion and say that you support veterans? Or do you do it because you actually care?” Bergen asked. “If you actually care about the disabled veterans in the state of New Jersey, then you will help me to relieve this bill from committee today and bring it to the floor.”
Assemblywoman Tucker said that she is working with veterans’ service organizations to advance her bill (A3064) that provides for a similar property tax deduction for disabled veterans, but caps the rebate at $5,000 and limits it to veterans with a gross income of up to $200,000. Majority Leader Louis Greenwald then made the motion to block Bergen’s bill from a floor vote.