Senate President Sweeney | July 7, 2019 | Star-Ledger |
During the closing days of the state’s budget battle, the governor asked “whose side are you on?” He did not ask this question in front of the general public, but time and time again he asked it in front of the state’s public union leaders and others who represent the fringes of New Jersey.
Unlike the administration, the Legislature chose to forge a path of unity over division. For decades, while Washington has become more divided, the Legislature forged ahead in an effort to work together with people from all walks of life. While the administration may approach the state budget as a way to settle political scores, our Legislature uses it to lay out specific priorities. That is why for the second year in a row, the New Jersey Legislature voted on a budget that was not an ideological manifesto, but a practical document that reflects the varied needs and priorities of more than 9 million residents.
As state legislators, we are proud to represent all of the people.
Most members of the Legislature have spent their lives representing the people of this state as elected officials but, more importantly, as leaders within their communities. We have heard from our neighbors about high property taxes, how poverty has risen, how commutes to work have been miserable, how college is unaffordable.
So when the administration cut funding to vulnerable communities in Gov. Murphy’s first budget, the Legislature restored funding to programs that lift the poor out of poverty, protected children and families and increased aid to underfunded school districts. This year, when the administration failed to present a budget that met the state’s minimum wage obligations to those serving the elderly and the disabled, the Legislature increased funding. And while the administration resorted to rhetoric on NJ Transit’s difficulties, the Legislature stepped up with considerably more funding for New Jersey’s commuters.
This year, the state Senate and the Assembly gave the administration a budget with a $1.410 billion surplus — $249.5 million more than Gov. Murphy originally proposed in February – with no new taxes. We funded virtually all of the administration’s priorities, and filled in the gaps where the administration budget fell short, but most importantly protected the priorities of the people; all of the people.
We tripled the increase in NJ Transit’s General Fund operating budget from $25 million to $75 million because we knew it made no sense to continue to underfund an agency struggling to improve its on-time performance after years of neglect under the previous governor.
We added $50 million more for Extraordinary Special Education Aid for our most vulnerable students – those whose education costs more than $40,000 a year – as part of a four-year phase-in to full funding of programs that should be a state responsibility and not fall on the backs of local property taxpayers.
We added $65 million for salary increases for our hard-working direct service providers – the low-paid workers who take care of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, who provide child care and take care of the elderly – keeping their pay above the new $10 minimum wage that began this month and the $11 minimum wage that will start in January.
We gave the county college presidents what they wanted by increasing funding and raising eligibility for County College Opportunity Grants from $45,000 to $65,000, and we put an additional $24 million into our four-year state colleges, including $7.5 million more for Montclair State University and $4.6 million additional for Stockton State, whose enrollments have been soaring without any increase in state aid.
We raised the income eligibility level for senior citizens to enroll in the Senior Freeze program to freeze their property taxes from $70,000 to almost $90,000, and we doubled the income tax deduction for our veterans from $3,000 to $6,000
To help lift up the poor we increased WorkFirst grants by 20 percent. We added $14 million to provide up to six months of postpartum care for mothers. We restored state funding for a “Heat and Eat” program that will help tens of thousands of families and could draw down as much as $117 million in additional federal funding.
Our fiscal crisis is far from over. Three years from now, New Jersey will be facing a $3 billion to $4 billion budget deficit unless we act quickly to reduce costs by enacting policies to protect the public employee pension system and reduce the growing cost of healthcare premiums impacting both taxpayers and public employees. More information on how the Legislature is working to make New Jersey more affordable can be found at www.pathtoprogressnj.org. These measures will not only help us balance the state budget, but also save billions of dollars in property taxes.
Until significant reforms are adopted, the state will continue to struggle to meet the diverse needs of our 9 million residents, including the most vulnerable.
We know whose side we are on: “Yours.”
Find the article here.