TRENTON – According to Senate President Steve Sweeney, Governor Chris Christie’s “disinvestment” in New Jersey over the past six years has lead to stagnant economic growth in the state compared with the rest of the country.
At a Monday press conference at the State House, Sweeney and fellow Democratic leaders announced an initiative identifying six areas they feel are key focus points that need attention in order to get the state back on the track to economic success.
“We are actually here trying to fix our state’s economy,” said Sweeney directing his comments at Governor Christie. Recently, the governor has come under scrutiny for his time away from the state as he pursues a presidential bid. Sweeney called that absence “very annoying” and said that he and his fellow democrats in the Senate are hoping that they can get time with the governor in order to discuss their new economic initiative: ‘New Jersey: Investing In You.’
“It doesn’t work when you can’t look each other in the eye,” Sweeney said. “Each day that goes by is another day closer to money running out in the [Transportation Trust Fund] TTF.”
Each part of New Jersey: Investing In You has a senator that will lead the effort. The plan’s six focus points are:
- Early childhood education, Senator Teresa Ruiz
- This portion of the plan aims at providing more children will access to preschool and shifting the focus from a K-12 system to a 0-16 system. Ruiz said that this would create a significant return on investment as well as savings in crime reduction.
- College affordability, Senator Sandra Cunningham
- This initiative aims to reduce college debt and make college a reality for more of the state’s young people.
- Transportation, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg
- With the TTF funds rapidly dwindling and no plan in place to fix it as of yet, this portion of the plan hopes to spur growth by taking advantage of New Jersey as a geographic hub between Washington D.C. and all the way up to Boston.
- Public-private partnerships, Senator Jim Whelan
- “We are really trying to answer the fundamental question: how are you going to pay for it?” Whelan said. According to the Senator, working with the private sector will provide innovative funding solutions to make projects around the state more affordable and reduce taxpayer burden.
- Promise neighborhoods, Senator Nellie Pou
- According to Pou, promise neighborhoods would help provide support for N.J. residents “from cradle to career.” Click here for more information about promise neighborhoods.
- Retirement security, Senator Paul Sarlo
- “Everyone in New Jersey deserves a safe and comfortable retirement,” according to Sarlo.
According to Sweeney the plan and the focus were chosen because “New Jersey can be fixed, but we need a plan to do it. New Jersey has no excuse for second-rate economic growth. We have to be willing to lift our heads and work for a future that offers promise and opportunity.”
Sweeney said that, while some new taxes such as a gas tax may have to be levied in order to fund parts of the initiative, the plan mainly focuses on “using the dollars that you have not to spend more, but to grow more.”
The Democrats believe that the areas they identified will have the most return on investment. One example, according to Ruiz, of a significant return on investment is that “every dollar invested in early childhood education produces seven in increased earnings.”
While the plan is still in it’s fledgling stages, the Democratic leadership says that they are hopeful they will be able to work with those on both sides of the aisle to have a discussion and help the plan come into fruition. They plan to hold roundtables with stakeholders, policy experts, and N.J. residents.
“Some of this stuff will be phased in because we can’t do it all at once but to do nothing makes no sense,” Sweeney said.