A Crossroads

Below is the text of the sppech I gave to Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey activists at our Defending the American Dream Summit in Trenton, May 30th, 2008:

I am going to talk of controversial things. I make no apology for this because today we stand at a crossroads, a time in our history as Americans that we will choose our destiny. We are to choose whether we will follow a road towards Liberty and Prosperity, a road whose course was mapped by the vision of our Founding Fathers. Oh, yes, a difficult road because freedom and liberty come at great expense. It is a road paved with the blood and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who gave so much so we may live free.

Or will we choose to take the easy road, downhill towards an oppressive big government, the quicksand of the entitlement state and the abdication of our individual freedom to Central Planners who see themselves as superior and who believe they know how better to manage our lives than we do?

It is fitting that we gather here in Trenton, the “Crossroads of the American Revolution,” a critical battleground in the war for the American Dream.

When our ancestors came here from County Cork fleeing the Potato Famine, in steerage from Palermo, Sicily or Russia to work fourteen hours a day in a sweatshop, or from the rice paddies of China to build railroads, or escaping Cuba in leaking boats, they came to a country where they knew they would find freedom and opportunity. Everyone here draws great pride from a heritage of ancestors who worked hard, saved and sacrificed, striving to build a better future for their children. They did not expect America to extend a handout. They did not say “We are entitled to own a home, a car, a free education and health care or food stamps. Give us what we want, we are in America.” NO, they asked for one thing – freedom. And with their bare hands, these proud immigrants forged a nation. Today, many who come to our country, and those already in our country, are taught they have a right to the things others have: a right to own a house, even a right to air conditioning.

NO, THEY DO NOT. Every American has the right to work, to save and to have equal access to opportunity to struggle and achieve an equal protection under the law. But, they do not have a right to equal things.

No one should have a mortgage on the success of others.

We have witnessed the expansion of the entitlement state and the growth of a culture of dependence. Let me outline some of the destructive proposals we are facing.

Governor Corzine’s mandate to have the taxpayers of this state fund 100,000 Low Income Housing Units is the most insidious example of the danger of big government entitlement in the country. With tens of thousands of our job producing residents fleeing our state, the Central Planners want to force massive Low Income Housing across every town, making New Jersey a magnet state for welfare recipients

The next target of the Central Planners is the small towns that make New Jersey strong. The planners recognize the danger small towns pose to their grand schemes. They want to get all those little towns with their pesky mayors and councils out of the way. These little towns that put the wants and needs of their residents above all else are the biggest obstacles to Trenton’s ruling class. The planners want control of our neighborhoods, our schools, our streets and whatever else they can manipulate, and small town governments are their enemy. They tell you that New Jersey has too many little towns. I say New Jersey has to much state government.

The planners want control of the complex medical profession. They’re trying to force something they call Universal Health Insurance. This is a misleading term for socialized medicine. The same reckless and irresponsible bureaucracy that can’t manage its way out of a paper bag, that could not build a handful of school buildings without losing billions of your dollars, thinks they can socialize medicine. Well, you cannot socialize the medical profession without socializing the patients.

On the national level, our position as the world’s leader in industry is being compromised by faulty Cap and Trade regulations, another sugar coated slogan for higher taxes and fewer jobs. This is a response to the hysteria of “Global Warming” and the price tag is astronomical. We cannot allow United Nations planners to redistribute our wealth around the world to suit their world vision.

I could go on and on. The Trenton leviathan knows no limits to its insatiable appetite for power, power and more power.

Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”

The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t engineer society without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that; it must use force and coercion to achieve its goals. It is not just a coincidence that the largest growth of government in New Jersey has been in the area of enforcement. Consider the massive Department of Environmental Protection that has become a pseudo-judicial branch of government with the power of judge, jury and executioner over every business and landowner in the state. The new Comptroller is ready to use its power to enforce the planner’s mandates in every last small town. The Investigator General and the bureaucracy of the Division of Taxation are all about building government enforcement power. This should concern every one of us, as the increasingly powerful central Planners use their force to implement the mandates necessary to conduct their experiments. Does anyone here choose to be a caged rat in the laboratory of government experimentation?

Any time you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we’re denounced as being opposed to their humanitarian goals. It seems impossible to legitimately debate their solutions with the assumption that all of us share the desire to help the less fortunate. They tell us conservatives are “against,” never “for” anything.

So here is what we are for: We believe “Home Rule” is the government closest to the people. Local governments are the cornerstone of Democracy, the models of efficiency and the greatest protection we have against the radical agenda of the Central Planners. You and I need to restore confidence in this great asset and end the Central Planners’ attack on our small government heritage.

We believe the private sector can do just about anything the government does better and more efficiently and that we must unleash the power of ingenuity, development, and progress that only the private sector can propel by getting the government off the backs of small business people.

We believe there should be a safety net for those amongst us who truly need help and support. But that net must not be a spider’s web that captures and holds anyone in its grasp. It should be a trampoline that works to launch everyone’s potential to achieve.

We believe in the spirit of individual giving and must promote the prosperity that has made America the most charitable country in the world. Private charities are a far better way to meet society’s needs than a government program.

We stand for true tax reform that will at least make a start toward restoring for our children the American Dream that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him. But we cannot have such reform while our state is engineered by people who view taxes as a means of achieving changes in our social structure.

Have we the courage and the will to face up to the immorality and discrimination of the progressive tax? New Jersey now has the worst progressive tax structure in the nation. No wonder so many of our friends and neighbors are leaving New Jersey to places where they can keep the fruits of their labor. Only forty-two years ago New Jersey had no sales tax, no income tax, we had the third highest property taxes in the country and we led the nation in opportunity. In 1966 they gave us a 3% sales tax and said that would solve what they called the “Property Tax Crisis,” then they raised it to 5% in 1977, 6% in 1983 and finally 7% under Jon Corzine. We now have one of the highest state sales taxes in the nation. In 1976 they pushed through an Income Tax and said that would end the “Property Tax Crisis.” The top rate was 2.5%. Today, we have the worst, most progressive income tax in the nation. And after all this, you and I are saddled with the highest property taxes in America. All because of Trenton’s failed policies. New Jersey’s state government that at one time served the noble purpose of defending individual liberty and prosperity, has morphed into a Central Planners’ fantasy playground. Today, the average taxpayer in New Jersey is paying 54% of their income to the tax collector.

So you and I find ourselves at a crossroads. Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Are you prepared to take the road to preserving the “American Dream” for generations to come by writing letters, making phone calls, giving your time and even your money to defend liberty? That’s why we are gathered here and we will leave here tomorrow armed with a new vision for our state and ready to do our jobs as Americans. Thank you.

Steve Lonegan was Mayor of Bogota, NJ, and is Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. He is a prolific writer, having been published in newspapers and blogs. He just published a book, Putting Taxpayers First: A Blueprint for Victory in the Garden State, that discusses the impact of the Trenton government on the well being of the taxpayers of the state. He offers solid and workable solutions. Learn more at lonegan.com.

A Crossroads