CAMDEN – January 1, 2015. Today the State of South Jersey celebrated its first anniversary. It was one year ago that President Obama signed into law an act narrowly passed by Congress that split New Jersey into two states. Like the Dakotas and the Carolinas, the states were named North Jersey and South Jersey. They joined the new states of North Texas, Central Texas, and South Texas that were also part of the legislation.
Since Trenton and Mercer County remained with North Jersey, the citizens of South Jersey determined that Camden would be the capital of the new state. As part of the Federal legislation to create the new state, the U.S. Government allocated $1.7 billion to build a new capitol complex along South Front Street, overlooking the newly-renamed Battleship South Jersey. The thousands of construction jobs created by this grant have helped revitalize the Camden economy. In his introduction of the governor, Camden Mayor José Delgado pointed out how these grants are also providing affordable housing for the residents of Camden and surrounding areas.
South Jersey Governor Diane Allen presided over the anniversary ceremonies along with Lieutenant Governor Jeff Pickens. (The South Jersey Constitution permitted separate voting for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, so the state is being run by a cooperative bipartisan team.)
In front of the new State Capitol building (under construction and on track to open in June), Governor Allen remarked on how successful the first year has been. “We are in good shape financially, even with our assumption of a per-capita portion of the old state’s pension obligations.” “Since the lion’s share of those obligations was for North Jersey employees,” she continued, “our portion is still large, but more manageable.” Allen’s reduction of the state sales tax to 3½ percent has been a boom to stores and shops near the North Jersey border, with shoppers coming in from as far away as Bergen County to take advantage of the lower rates.
Another factor that has helped reduce South Jersey’s unemployment rate to 4.1% has been the legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Barry Bendar and signed by President Obama, allocating $2.3 billion to the cleanup and remediation of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, scheduled to close in four years. At the anniversary ceremony, Bendar said “South Jersey’s commitment to renewable energy is second to none, and our dependence on fossil fuels is being reduced every day. We are the leader in solar generation, and with the commissioning of Fisherman’s Energy’s wind farm off the South Jersey shore, we will be a net exporter of energy in two years. North Jersey Governor Guadagno is building coal-burning plants to meet their needs, while we are emphasizing clean technologies.” He continued, “The remediation of the Lacey Township nuclear site will take ten years and employ 1700 highly skilled people. Also, we are no longer burdened by the costs of upgrading the power distribution infrastructure in North Jersey, and our transmission line systems will be adequate for decades to come.” Lori Braunstein, South Jersey’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection, praised Senator Bendar’s commitment to bring federal funds to South Jersey for these environmental initiatives.
In enumerating the new state’s first year accomplishments, Allen also touted the marriage equality legislation that she signed into law last month. “Under the leadership of Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Jay Lassiter, we were able to do what we couldn’t do under the old system. I’ve been especially pleased how Atlantic City has become the ‘go to’ destination for weddings as they adapt to the proliferation of competitive gambling establishments along the East Coast.”
“People are no longer battling the cross-Hudson congestion to hold weddings in Manhattan when they can more easily get to Atlantic City on the South Jersey Parkway for their celebrations”, Lassiter added.
Also speaking at the ceremony was U.S. Senator Louis Greenwald, who announced that the latest Race to the Top grant, which was written in cooperation with the South Jersey Education Association, will bring $350 million in federal revenue to help boost South Jersey’s public school system. Greenwald remarked, “I’m pleased with how Governor Allen and Education Commissioner Jersey Jazzman worked closely with the teachers’ union to come up with an innovative proposal that meets the needs of our school kids and their teachers. Naming a school teacher as education commissioner was a smart move on the part of the governor.”
Also in the education arena, State Commissioner of Higher Education Wendell Prichett announced the merger of Rowan University and Stockton College into the new Mason Gross University. “While we may have lost Rutgers to the political whims of former power brokers, the new Mason Gross University will continue the tradition of excellence in teaching and world-class research right here in South Jersey. It’s fitting that our new State University is named after an accomplished academic and former resident of Monmouth County.” Of course, prior to the merger, due diligence was performed and a detailed plan for transition and operation of the new institution was reviewed by academics, students, and the general public.
Following Pritchett’s remarks, South Jersey Attorney General Aimee Belgard announced the approval of seven more medical marijuana dispensaries, bringing the total across the state to 42. “We have the appropriate safeguards in place, and thanks to the leadership of State Health Commissioner Herb Conaway, we are providing compassionate palliative care to those patients in need.” She also pointed out the influx of patients from North Jersey, who are spending their money in the south in order to get the care they can’t obtain in their home state.
Meanwhile, back in North Jersey, after he was fired as Goldman Sachs CEO after only one year on the job, Chris Christie blamed the recent poor performance of his company on the actions of Jon Corzine back in the late 90s. Goldman Sachs announced that George Norcross III has been appointed as the new CEO.