‘Jersey Comeback’ bypasses many families

By  Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen

Nobody likes to highlight their own failures.  So it’s no wonder in his second State of the State Address, Governor Christie did not even touch on the issue of economic security.  While most of New Jersey families scrape by paycheck to paycheck, the central message of Chris Christie’s vision for our state is that we’re in “comeback” mode.

Despite the fact that poll after poll still indicates the overriding concern of the public is the economy, the Governor’s message relied heavily on platitudes and empty rhetoric, leaving any reference to bolstering the livelihoods of middle and low income families on the cutting room floor.

The Governor’s claim of a “Jersey Comeback” is sure to be scoffed at by beleaguered families who are not ignorant to the realities of Chris Christie’s New Jersey.

Upon closer scrutiny, the numbers, both in New Jersey and across the country, suggest that for the first time in the post-World War II era, the American Dream may be slipping out of grasp for many families.

In New Jersey, our unemployment rate still remains above the national average and, as of November, we were ranked 45th in the nation in terms of job creation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This is not to say Chris Christie is responsible for all of these woes, but his silence on the issue underscores his indifference to the plight of middle class New Jerseyans.

Instead, what we got in his State of the State Address was a warmed-over education reform whose centerpiece is a plan that amounts to privatizing our public education system; a diversion program for non-violent drug offenders, which, while having merit, does little to address our economic woes; and a 10 percent income tax cut that disproportionately favors the wealthy.

This last proposal becomes all the more outlandish when you consider the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau – nearly half the U.S. population, 48.6 percent to be exact, lived in a household that received some type of government benefit in the second quarter of 2010.

So with a record high number of Americans relying on government assistance due to our weak economy, the Governor proposes a $25,000 tax cut for families earning $3 million.  Meanwhile, a family earning $50,000 a year would receive an $80.50 tax cut, essentially a savings of $6 a month.

And the price tag for all of these cuts?  Roughly $1 billion, according to current gross income tax projections, half of which would go to those earning over $250 million a year. 

Instead of diverting tax dollars to the rich, why not invest it in infrastructure, job creation, and property tax reduction – initiatives that will not only rebuild our state but bolster working-class families?

Sadly, the Governor’s speech was devoid of any plan to address cost of living issues for middle class residents. Couple that with the fact that he pocket vetoed a number of bills at the end of the legislative session, including several of mine, that would have helped create jobs and help parents pay for their children’s higher education costs.

I understand the economic realities of our state and our nation, but for so many Americans, especially young people, the American Dream is broken.

Education is key to achieving this dream, and yet the cost of higher education has made it unaffordable to so many. When I attended Rutgers Law School I paid for it with two low-interest loans that I was able to pay off.  Today my dream to become a lawyer would not have been possible given the increase in tuition and lack of jobs needed to pay off my debt.

The cost of living – whether it’s education, health care, child care or housing costs – when viewed in the context of our state’s higher than average unemployment and stagnant wages, presents many challenges that must be faced if our children are to realize the American Dream.

We must rebuild the middle-class and this cannot be achieved by sound bites and YouTube moments masquerading as meaningful public policy. This requires a long-term, strategic investment in our economy, in our state – building new industries, opening up educational opportunities to everyone, rewarding a hard day’s work with a living wage and addressing the inequities in our tax system.

The Governor’s abject failure to address economic insecurity is symptomatic of his tone deafness when it comes to the realities of struggling low and middle income families in New Jersey.

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton