The Senate Budget Committee convened today in Toms River, to hear about the impact of and the recovery efforts due to Hurricane Sandy. State, county, and local officials briefed Senator Paul Sarlo and his committee on the events, the impact, and the massive remediation and recovery costs that this “storm of the century” has thrust upon the fiscally fragile state economy.
Chairman Sarlo opened the hearings by announcing that the panel would talk about recovery and remediation efforts, but would not be discussing budget issues. (If you didn’t follow the @bluejersey twitter feed, you can find more on the meeting by clicking here.) Sarlo rightfully prioritized the effort to find temporary housing and quickly move to more permanent housing for those who lost everything. He said they would discuss infrastructure improvements and smart rebuilding efforts.
All of this is necessary. But it is not sufficient. While we can’t prevent 100-year storms (which scientists say will now occur with greater frequency), we can do a lot as a state and a nation to mitigate the severity of these storms.
First, we need to have a serious discussion about how we rebuild the shore towns and the areas within flood plains – a discussion that was given only lip service today. It’s very difficult for people to lose their homes, especially those who have lived in them for decades. But does it make sense to rebuild the same way only to go through the same trauma a few years from now? Is it more cost-effective if we bite the bullet now and put our power distribution lines underground? That would be more expensive in the short term, but cheaper in the long run. Should we allow wealthy shore homeowners to dictate how the barrier islands are protected?
And we can’t ignore the long term while we spend the next few years rebuilding. Reputable scientists say that the severity of Sandy and the frequency of similar storms are a direct result of man-made global climate change. Yet Governor Christie has unilaterally pulled our state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (this having been done shortly after he met with the Koch Brothers), thus weakening efforts to control the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, which directly results in the oceans melting and providing the energy for super storms. With all of the bipartisan kumbaya displayed at today’s hearing, there should be a call for action to override the governor’s RGGI withdrawal.
On September 11, 2001 – one of the worst days in American history – after getting over the initial shock and anger, I predicted to one of my colleagues that that event would guarantee the re-election of George W. Bush, who was well on his way to become the worst president in my lifetime. The same thing is true on a smaller scale. Governor Christie filed papers today for his re-election bid, saying he wanted to continue his leadership in the Sandy recovery efforts. People look to their leaders in a disaster, and it gives them almost unlimited political capital.
The Governor learned his lesson from his absence during Snowmageddon in 2010. His leadership in the Sandy recovery efforts has been the reason his popularity has soared. Yet all of us (especially the mainstream media) have to have a serious discussion on his dismal record on promoting growth at the expense of the environment. Continuing down the same path will only ensure more severe storms and heartbreak down the road.
So let’s not hesitate to help our neighbors. Many towns lost a significant portion of their ratable tax base, and while Senators Lautenberg and Menendez are working to get more federal aid, much of the burden will be on the shoulders of New Jersey’s residents. It’s time to re-instate the millionaire’s tax and stop subsidizing ineffective non-public education that enriches the coffers of the education-industrial complex. At the same time we need to provide opportunities for the least fortunate New Jerseyans – not only in the Sandy battle zone, but in Camden, Newark, and throughout the state. If we do, that will demonstrate true governmental leadership.