By State Sen. Barbara Buono
As New Jerseyans face another tax day, working and middle class families are being squeezed like never before.
New Jersey’s property taxes are up 20 percent under Governor Chris Christie, still the highest in the nation. And Christie has slashed the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which is vital to working families striving to reach the middle class.
While their taxes skyrocket, more and more residents are without a way to pay them. With 430,000 of our people out of work, New Jersey’s unemployment rate is at a staggering 9.3 percent– the highest in the region and more than a point higher than the national average. We face the worst unemployment crisis in more than three decades.
All around us we see economic recovery taking hold. While neighboring New York State has regained all the jobs it lost during the recession – and added even more – the Christie Administration has recouped only 40 percent of the jobs lost during the recession.
To address the crisis, Governor Christie has put forward the same tired Republican ideology of trickle down economics—tax cuts for the wealthiest and corporations.
Instead of signing legislation that would have millionaires pay their fair share, and would have helped fund our schools and delivered tax relief to senior citizens, the Governor vetoed them and said they sacrificed enough.
On top of this, he has slashed property tax relief and used the money to balance his budgets. While this might make for a good sound bite, it hurts New Jersey’s families who could have used the money for school supplies, mortgage payments or healthcare.
And the Governor’s primary response to New Jersey’s persistently high unemployment has been to offer tax breaks and subsidies to corporations – but we need to also strategically invest in infrastructure and education, which we desperately need to attract new businesses to our state.
This is about more than facts and figures. It’s about the husband and wife who planned for retirement their whole lives but now realize that dream may never be a reality. It’s about the parents who taught their children to value education but can’t afford to send them to college. It’s about the homeowners – 8 percent of whom are now in foreclosure – who have to choose between celebrating a birthday and paying the electric bill. It’s about middle class New Jerseyans struggling to make ends meet.
Governor Christie’s New Jersey isn’t the New Jersey I know.
I grew up in a New Jersey that offered all of its residents a chance. As the daughter of an immigrant butcher from Italy – the father I lost when I was just teenager – we didn’t have much, but with affordable tuition and available grants and loans, I was able to get a quality public education from grade school through law school. That state that gave a young girl from Nutley the chance to grow up and fulfill her dreams is slipping away.
And in order to move forward as a state, we must start by reaffirming our commitment to that vision.
New Jersey needs an economic policy that reflects our values. That means we have to maximize state school aid to relieve the property tax burden on our families. We have to support the state’s institutions of higher learning to ensure that our students can get an affordable education right here at home. And instead of putting faith in the false narrative of trickle-down economics, we have to raise the minimum wage and restore the Earned Income Tax Credit to elevate the state’s working poor and build our economy from the bottom up.
New Jersey has had its fill of broken promises and empty rhetoric. Governor Christie’s record speaks for itself—New Jersey’s middle class is shrinking while poverty is on the rise. The nation’s economy has begun to rebound and New Jersey is being left behind.
In November we can make New Jersey a land of opportunity once again.