The Star-Ledger

New Coalition Will Advocate To Reverse Tax Cuts And To Spend More On Education, Housing, Transportation

The Star-Ledger — February 18, 2020

By Brandon McKoy
Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

New Jersey's prime location, top-tier public schools, and vibrant communities make it a world class economic hub, but the state's beleaguered finances hold us back from reaching our full potential. Big tax cuts for ultra-wealthy families and corporate special interests have drained billions of dollars from New Jersey's budget coffers. Now, the state is unable to fulfill its obligations or make new investments for the future.

To reverse this trend and to build an economy that works for everyone, the state must take a new approach to budgeting that puts the needs of ordinary people over those of the well-connected.

That's why we started For the Many, a coalition of faith-based organizations, labor unions, and nonprofits advocating for education, the environment, and affordable housing. Together we will advance a state budget that prioritizes the many, not a chosen few. By cleaning up the tax code and closing corporate tax loopholes, we can make our communities stronger, protect the environment, and improve our rails, roads, and bridges.

Under the Christie administration, New Jersey enacted $15 billion in cumulative tax cuts that primarily benefited the state's richest families and largest businesses and further exacerbated economic inequality. It started when the "millionaires tax" was allowed to sunset and was followed by deep cuts to corporate business taxes. Then, in 2016, in order to replenish funding for public transportation, Governor Christie demanded an elimination of the estate tax for wealthy heirs and cut the sales tax by less than half a penny. These shortsighted cuts explain why New Jersey received 11 consecutive credit downgrades and why the state has trouble balancing its budget year in and year out.

Now, a decade after New Jersey began its failed experiment with trickle down economic policies, working class families are the ones feeling the pinch. In fact, New Jersey's middle class households pay a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the state's top 1% — and they're getting far fewer in services in return.

When the state government is starved of funds, New Jersey loses its ability to provide the programs and services people rely on, and our quality of life suffers. And for a state as diverse as New Jersey, when it comes to underfunded public schools, underfunded public transit, and underfunded state agencies that protect our health and safety, the consequences will fall hardest on marginalized communities of color and low-income residents. This is compounded by President Trump and his proposals to slash federal funding for food stamps, environmental protections and health care, leaving New Jersey to step up and fill the gap.

Strong public schools are one of the state's most important assets and a big reason why many young families choose to call New Jersey home. They prepare the workforce of tomorrow and help build the next generation of leaders. Yet, New Jersey underfunds its school districts by more than $1 billion annually, leaving far too many kids without the resources they need to thrive — and too many local school boards left making up the funding gap through higher property taxes. Further, cuts to higher education are stretching students thin as the cost of a college degree from a state university is 18% higher — or $2,121 more per year — than a decade ago.

Everyone understands the importance of reliable mass transit, whether you're taking the train into New York City or riding the bus to work. That didn't stop the state from slashing the state subsidy to NJ Transit despite rising operational and mechanical costs. With a structural deficit of $750 million, commuters have been asked to pay more for each ride while bus lines are canceled, rail service is cut and train delays and cancellations become the new norm.

State agencies, tasked with performing the essential behind-the-scenes work that keeps New Jersey running, have also been decimated by budget cuts and disinvestment. For example, the Department of Community Affairs had its budget cut by $670 million — or 42% — over the last decade, making it difficult to fully enforce building codes and ensure our homes and places of work are free of toxins like lead, asbestos and radon. Similarly, the Labor Department's ability to enforce wage and hour laws, like when an employer steals their workers' rightful pay, has dwindled due to budget cuts. These cuts are harming New Jersey residents every day.

Fortunately, New Jersey has a choice: we can continue to make the mistakes of the past or we can reinvest in our communities. If our state truly values the diversity of our communities and cares about the working class and disenfranchised, then it will pass a budget that fully funds the assets and services we all rely on. By reversing ill-advised tax cuts, closing corporate tax loopholes, and ensuring the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share, New Jersey has an opportunity to reach its full potential with a budget — and economy — that works for the many.

Brandon McKoy is the president of New Jersey Policy Perspective.

This op-ed was also signed by members of For The Many NJ steering committee: New Jersey Working Families Alliance, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Work Environment Council, Environment New Jersey, Make the Road New Jersey, Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, New Jersey Education Association, Communications Workers of America - NJ, Amalgamated Transit Union - NJ, Clean Water Action - NJ.

Top Top | NJCA in the News | NJCA Homepage