BY ANIBAL RAMOS
Now that Newark Mayor Cory Booker has won a seat in the U.S. Senate, many people are wondering how the state’s biggest city will fare in a post-Booker era. One fact about Newark that
got lost in the fog of campaign rhetoric is that we have worked hard over the last seven years to put our fiscal house in order.
Newark had a long history of balancing its budget with one-shot revenues, including the use of state emergency aid, settlement money from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
and the sale and lease back of the city’s municipal buildings.
However, for the first time, during my tenure as acting Council President, Newark’s Municipal Council adopted a budget that significantly reduced the use of one-shot revenues. We still have
work to do, but we are fortunate that we do not have the type of fiscal problems that have pushed some American cities to the brink.
When Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, it set off wake-up alarms in cities across the nation. Public officials wondered whether their own cities faced a similar threat.
While Detroit presents a unique and somewhat extreme example, the city’s spectacular financial collapse forced those of us in public office to ask ourselves some tough questions: Are our taxes to high? Do we have too much debt? What can we do to grow our tax base? Are we providing proper services to our citizens? Are we governing with a view to the future or are we living budget-to-budget?
For Newark, these questions are not merely academic. How we answer them will determine the kind of city Newark will be in the not-to-distant future.
Newark is turning the corner with substantial public and private investment. More than $1 billion has been invested in the city in recent years. The new headquarters for Panasonic, a new office tower for Prudential, and hundreds of new market rate and affordable residential units are transforming the downtown into a living, working and entertainment mecca.
The Springfield Avenue Marketplace, which will bring a mix of residential and retail outlets, including a ShopRite store and the rehabilitation of the historic Hahne’s department store, which just announced a lease agreement with Whole Foods, are just a few examples of development that not only serve as financial catalysts for future investment, but also serve to enhance the quality of life of existing and new residents. If elected mayor of Newark, I will propose a progressive Economic Development plan that provides larger incentives to spur development throughout all neighborhoods.
All this investment is great for the city, but there is still much more we can do to strengthen our fiscal foundation. We must develop and implement a series of measures that will help
attract people who want to live, visit and work in our City. It is through fiscal stability and city budgetary improvements that will further attract more businesses and outside investment.
Newark must act so it can determine its own path, fix its problems and do everything it can to avoid having its fate determined by its creditors. City leadership must expand on our
already considerable efforts by acknowledging that our tax base is not large enough to supportour various obligations. We must take a long-term view and explain to Newark’s various
constituencies why developing a balanced approach and embracing shared sacrifice are the cornerstones of any strategy.
As part of this effort, every possible solution must be considered. That includes government restructuring, increasing economic development and investment within the City, stepping up
collections on debts owed, selling unnecessary assets and reducing legacy costs. We must also be willing to consider bold new ideas that directly challenge ingrained habits and traditional ways of doing business. As Newark develops a reputation for addressing its finances responsibly, it will have a much greater opportunity to diversify its tax base in the long run.Newark must act now. We must do our homework and be open to all options. We must approach this effort with a cool demeanor and convey a respect for differing points of view. Because
Detroit ignored the warning signs, it was late to act and lost control of its destiny. Decisions on Detroit’s future will be made by others. Newark must do everything it can to avoid that outcome. We must use Detroit’s failure as inspiration to work together and solve our problems.
Anibal Ramos is a Newark City Councilman representing the North Ward and a candidate for mayor.