New Jersey and the tri-state area are the tip of the spear in the fight against Covid-19. Our state government is marshalling all available resources to build testing sites, expand our healthcare system’s capacity, and attempt to bring relief to struggling families facing sudden losses of income. As our state heroically strives to meet this crisis with a too-small Rainy Day Fund and an underfunded budget, it is worth considering what type of budget choices New Jersey can make now that can support working families, our state’s economy, and our state’s environment as we move forward together.
Even before the pandemic, reductions in revenue had strained critical state programs to the breaking point. As any commuter who has spent time stranded on a train in the Meadowlands knows, NJ Transit is in need of massive capital investments. Before everyone was threatened by Covid-19, many families in our state (particularly low-income families and families of color) were threatened by lead and other contaminants in their drinking water. Prior to this swiftly moving crisis, the state was already facing the slower-moving but still existential threat of climate change while raiding $1.5 billion from the Clean Energy Fund to fill other budget holes.
As we work together as a state to fight the pandemic, our state government should continue to look for ways to make the New Jersey budget work for EVERYBODY so that critical programs that support public health and working families get the funding they need. Investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, lead remediation, mass transit, and drinking water infrastructure can not only jump start our local economy but can also improve the quality of life for everyone in our state as we rebuild from the current crisis.
In order to adequately fund the state’s growing budget needs, New Jersey will need to look for progressive sources of revenue that ensure that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share. Our state should reinstate previous sources of revenue such as the Millionaire’s Tax and estate tax. New Jersey should also extend the corporate business tax surcharge in light of the current crisis. In addition, the state should restore the sales tax to its level before the 2016 cut as this regressive tax cut only saved low-income families less than a dollar a week on average but starved the state’s budget of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. This revenue could be spent on programs that directly support working families through pandemic relief efforts as well as on programs that ensure clean drinking water and reliable mass transit.
New Jerseyans have always been united by fierce state pride and an “us against the world” mentality that can serve us well as we face a crisis unlike anything we have seen before. Our state budget should reflect the reality that without a reliable federal partner, we are largely on our own to solve this budget mess. We can take this moment to craft a budget that lifts up struggling families, protects our local businesses, and invests in a cleaner and healthier environment. We should not have to choose between fighting a pandemic and getting lead out of drinking water. With thoughtful increases in revenue, we should strive to do both.
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