By any measure you use, it’s clear that our state government has been extremely active over the past few years trying to change our state.
In just the past eight months, the Legislature has approved and the governor has signed public worker pension and benefit reforms, a lower property tax cap and a budget that closed a multi-billion dollar revenue gap. For all the tough talk, this was all done in a bipartisan basis.
While all these reforms both recently passed and on table are important, and I have supported and will support several of these pending ones, my frustration is that the new administration has failed to focus continuously like a laser on the main issue facing our state today – jobs.
The governor just recently has begun discussing this topic, but our emphasis should have always been on spurring economic development and putting our residents back to work. A look at the new administration’s actions so far clearly shows that they are causing a net loss of jobs in our state.
Ill-advised budget cuts to job creation programs such as Urban Enterprise Zones, business tax credits, science and technology incentives and film and digital media credits are crippling economic development in our state.
Furthermore, the governor’s failure to enact the new homebuyer tax credit and support a moratorium on the nonresidential development fee has effectively put the real estate market in a deep freeze.
As if this wasn’t enough, the governors slowing down of school construction and road projects are literally keeping thousands of construction workers home that should be on the job.
A perfect example of this is the administration’s recent announcement on the halting of the new Hudson River commuter rail tunnel, a questionable decision that is sending shockwaves of fear through the state’s labor and business communities.
Continuing down this road, the governor has yet to present a plan to solve the Transportation Trust Fund problem. Let’s hope he doesn’t just divert money from the tunnel project to do so. It cannot be one or the other. We must move forward with both if we’re serious about economic development and ensuring a viable, modern infrastructure vital to our future success as a state.
When we combine these concerns with the massive cuts to education and municipal aid, which are causing significant job losses on the local government level, the result is a major contraction of the state’s economy.
To be fair, we have some good news.
Passing a budget without any major broad based business tax increases and avoiding a significant unemployment fund tax increase has helped avoid making things worse for New Jersey businesses. Moving to fix the Bayonne Bridge clearance problem is a positive step to save jobs at our ports.
But when we balance all this out, unfortunately we are coming up short.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, which is higher than our neighboring states Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania. And while cutting the public sector workforce will alleviate pressure on local government spending, our lack of viable economic development incentives is preventing the private sector from making up the difference in job creation that the public sector is shedding.
I have proven my willingness to work on a bipartisan basis to move our state forward and will continue to do so. I implore the governor and the entire Legislature to do the same.
Economic development should not be a political victim of government reform. We must do both.
Let’s push forward together and get New Jersey back to work.
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho is a Democrat who represents the 29th Legislative District in Essex County. He is chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.