‘New Jersey: Investing In You’ Will Target Six Key Areas
TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Democrats announced today a far-reaching economic investment plan that will help generate growth and expand economic opportunities with targeted investments in key areas that will provide benefits for the people of New Jersey.
“For too long this state’s economy has failed to perform in the ways needed to generate opportunities for the people of New Jersey, especially middle class families and working people,” said Senator Sweeney. “We need to make the investments needed to promote economic growth and provide economic opportunities. Starving the economy of public investment hasn’t worked.”
Entitled “New Jersey: Investing In You,” the plan targets six key sectors with legislation: early childhood education, college affordability, world class transportation, “promise neighborhoods” to revitalize communities, public-private partnerships to aid job creation and retirement security.
“We have to be willing to be bold enough to take on the challenge with commitment and determination and to assert the leadership needed to get the state moving forward,” said Senator Sweeney. “The work doesn’t end with these bills, this is just the start. We will maintain our focus on these priority areas and continue to look for new ways and new ideas to make the strategy an ongoing practice. It has to become part of our ongoing commitment to economic growth and opportunity.”
To move the initiative forward, Senator Sweeney asked a team of Senate leaders to focus on developing specific legislative plans. Following through on the work were Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Senator Paul Sarlo, Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Sandra Cunningham, Senator Jim Whelan and Senator Nellie Pou.
Over seven weeks, the legislators held public forums, roundtable discussions, research and review with stakeholders, policy experts, and most importantly – everyday residents. They looked at model programs and best practices in other cities and states in an ongoing effort to identify the best way forward.
Senator Sweeney pointed to transportation and education as examples of areas where investments have proven successful in the past. Investments can produce savings and generate financial benefits. Every dollar invested in early childhood education produces at least seven dollars in increased earnings, reduced education costs and savings in crime reduction. Each dollar invested in transportation produces $3.50 in direct and indirect growth in GDP. And those with a college degree earn an estimated $1.2 million in additional income in their lifetime.
New Jersey’s poor economic record in recent years includes a poverty rate increase from 9.4 percent in 2009 to 11.1 percent now, a 27 percent jump in foreclosures in one year, and a drop in median income from $75,400 to $71,900 from 2009 to 2014. And, while the country regained 132 percent of jobs lost in the recession, New Jersey has recovered only 62 percent of lost jobs.
The issue areas, the proposals and the respective Senators leading the effort:
- Early Childhood Education – Senator M. Teresa Ruiz
The recommendations would expand Pre-K to the next 17 districts with a two-year phase in. It would also include the Early Childhood Innovation Act, an innovation loan pilot program that is a public-private partnership which allows private sector entities to pay the costs of expanding early childhood education and receive a portion of shared State savings resulting from the investment. The final piece would be to develop a plan to expand early childhood services to the children in former Abbott districts.
“Research has shown that quality early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in ensuring greater academic achievement, graduation rates and future earnings for our children. New Jersey is a leader in high-quality preschool education and its programs have been identified as a national model, but too many families still do not have access to these programs. We need to expand early childhood education throughout the state and implement creative ways of funding innovative programs. This is a major step forward in that process.” Senator M. Teresa Ruiz
- College Affordability – Senator Sandra Cunningham
The recommendations include the creation of a “New Jersey HonorScholars” program, replacing NJ Stars and providing increased student aid to high achieving students, and required financial literacy and counseling for high school students. Additionally, the plan encourages the College Affordability Study Commission to review its recommendations for increased dual enrollment programs, four-year B.A.S. degrees at county colleges, and three-year accelerated B.A. programs at four-year institutions.
“Our colleges and universities are among the best in the nation, yet too many students and their families struggle to afford the high cost. These initiatives will ensure that more students have access to a higher education and that they can attend college right here in New Jersey. By expanding aid programs and creating innovative degree tracks, we will make college more affordable for students and help them to avoid the burden of carrying excessive debt.” Senator Sandra Cunningham
- World Class Transportation – Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg
The plan endorses the Gateway rail tunnel, trans-Hudson rail service, and an expanded Port Authority Bus Terminal. It also calls for pumping $2 billion a year into the Transportation Trust Fund to enable construction of the Camden-Glassboro Light Rail, extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Englewood, and expand our rail freight capacity to handle increased cargo. It also calls for doubling local aid to counties and municipalities. The recommendations also call for a State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. The bank would be a non-lapsing, revolving fund within the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust.
“New Jersey needs a world-class transportation infrastructure to spur economic growth, create jobs and make New Jersey competitive in a global economy. We need to make sure that the new Port Authority Bus Terminal and Gateway rail tunnels are built so that we can expand trans-Hudson rail and bus commuter capacity. We are calling for a $2 billion-a-year Transportation Trust Fund that is robust enough to extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Bergen County, to build the Camden-Glassboro Light Rail Line and to fix our crumbling bridges and highways, and to expand our rail freight system.” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg
- Public-Private Partnerships – Senator Jim Whelan
The Public-Private Partnerships legislation would permit government entities to enter into agreements with private entities for undertaking certain building and highway infrastructure projects, and provides for oversight of these agreements by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The agreements would allow government entities to enter into agreements under which the private entity assumes financial and administrative responsibility for the development, construction, reconstruction, repair, and maintenance of a project financed in whole or in part by the private entity.
“Public-private partnerships are an important way to stretch scarce public dollars in order to complete needed projects that will benefit our residents, create jobs and economic growth. With this legislation, local governments and higher education institutions will be able to partner with the private sector on large-scale building or infrastructure projects. We’ve seen success stories through these kinds of innovative partnerships both in New Jersey and other states, so expanding eligibility to additional public entities will allow us to enhance the economic benefits.” Senator Jim Whelan
- Promise Neighborhoods – Senator Nellie Pou
The proposal would create a commission to evaluate how the Promise Neighborhood model could help financially-stressed communities improve the lives of children. Under this model, non-profit organizations, public-private partnerships and institutions of higher education collaborate to create an ecosystem around the needs of a child. As part of this process, all efforts focus on building “wrap-around” services through schools in the neighborhood and build services for students in those schools from birth through college and career. This is called the “Cradle to College or Career” approach. The proposal also calls for dedicating $2 million to existing Promise Neighborhoods and to expanding this model to other municipalities in New Jersey.
“Promise neighborhoods rebuild communities beyond brick and mortar. By providing access for all children and youth in distressed neighborhoods to great schools and strong systems of family and community support, and taking a holistic approach with services that engage children and families at every stage of a child’s life, we can better equip them for excellence and successfully transition them from the cradle to college or a career.” Senator Nellie Pou
- Retirement Security – Senator Paul Sarlo
The recommendations include a phased in retirement income exemption over three years and the creation of a 401k private sector plan for all employees. The proposal would increase the retirement income exemption to $100,000 with a three-year phase in. The retirement income exclusion would gradually increase from the current rate of $10,000 for married filing separately, $15,000 for a single taxpayer, and $20,000 for a married couple to $50,000 for married filing separately, $75,000 for a single taxpayer, and $100,000 for married couples, all over three years. The creation of a 401k private sector plan for all employees would offer two options, one that mandates participation by employers with an opt-out provision for employees and another paid for without state money and is optional for employers and employees.
“Too many people in New Jersey face retirement with insecure incomes and too many retirees find it hard to make ends meet on their income. I believe we need to phase out the inheritance tax, increase the income exclusion on retirement income and make it easier to prepare for retirement with savings plans. This will help ensure that more New Jerseyans have financial security in their retirement so that they can live with dignity and without financial needs.” Senator Paul Sarlo