Author Archive: Rob Duffey

Bonuses for budget cuts

Rob Duffey is Policy and Communications Coordinator of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance

Embattled Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has had a hard year. Handpicked by the Christie Administration to preside over their corporate education reform agenda in Newark, Anderson has earned the ire of Newark students, teachers, and taxpayers. The Newark Board of Education gave her a vote of no confidence. The Newark City Council and the Essex Board of Freeholders passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on any further ‘reforms.’

But it’s not all bad. Because this year she’s up for a $50,000 bonus – even while she cut funding for Newark schools by over $56 million.

Unemployment rate shows Christie’s jobs plan is a dead end

Yes, NJ’s jobless rate rose again, to 8.7%, highest of all the states surrounding us, and more evidence that Chris Christie’s ‘Jersey Comeback’ was BS. This is from Rob Duffey, Policy and Communications Coordinator of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. Promoted by Rosi.

The new jobs numbers are out, and they continue to disappoint. It’s been four years since Chris Christie promised us that tax cuts for the rich paid for by budget cuts for the rest would save the state’s economy. Yet New Jersey still lags behind the rest of the country in getting back to work.

Our unemployment rate actually ticked up from 8.6 to 8.7%. While we added some jobs, it’s obvious that far too many New Jerseyans are looking for work with no prospects to be found. And the longer each one of them looks, the harder it will be for them to find work in the future.  

Good cause, bad idea

promoted by Rosi

Last week we wrote about how the legislature’s corporate subsidy overhaul bill could endanger New Jersey’s open spaces. But the state’s rural areas are also the subject of another controversy. There’s a bill under consideration in Trenton to buy land and preserve it as open space. It’s a worthy goal, but the problem is that the bill doesn’t include new revenue to pay for the purchases. Instead, proponents want to divert hundreds of millions in funding that should be used for investments in things like environmental protection, education, and public safety.

A disaster in the making

By Rob Duffey, Policy and Communications Coordinator for the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. Promoted by Rosi.

Next week the New Jersey Senate considers the ‘Economic Opportunity Act of 2013′ – a bill that purports to overhaul five economic development programs used by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to ostensibly create or retain jobs in New Jersey.

Unfortunately numerous studies have found these programs don’t make a big difference in corporate behavior all too often we end up being pitted against New York or Pennsylvania in a bidding war or just paying a corporation to do exactly what they would have anyway. And if you don’t believe us, just look at the last few years. Chris Christie has staked his entire jobs strategy on these programs, and we still have the 6th highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Few of the reforms included in the overhaul will do much to make these programs more accountable or effective. But almost as bad is that a slew of new amendments were quietly snuck into the fast-tracked corporate subsidy overhaul that will make these grants more expensive, more frequent, and harder on the environment.

The ‘Economic Opportunity Act of 2013’ folds New Jersey’s five economic development programs into two. In theory it puts a cap on certain programs, but between ‘bonuses’ the awards could actually increase to levels unseen so far. And given just how much corporate welfare has spiked under Christie’s watch that’s saying something.

Sadly, the overhauls do little to ensure these programs create the jobs supporters promise. And perhaps since few legislators are asking about the jobs these programs might create, no one thought legislators would notice two amendments that will be terrible for New Jersey’s environment and open spaces.  

Passing the buck on a budget benefiting the 1%

One of the more frustrating parts of the Democratic majority’s decision to quietly settle in this year’s budget fight was the fact that they seem to have abandoned economic populism when all around the country it’s enjoying a resurgence.

In the 2012 election candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown ran and won on a decidedly populist message, and this year was the first year in quite some time that the wealthy got a federal tax hike instead of a tax cut. You’ve seen that sea change start to have an impact on the state level too. California passed a millionaires tax by referendum, and states like Connecticut and Minnesota are asking corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share this year to begin restoring services on which working families rely.

But we’ve seen no similar calls in New Jersey despite the obvious and urgent need. We have one of the largest gaps in the nation between our low income residents and wealthy. And though the richest 5% of households have average incomes 13 times the size of the bottom 20% of households, it’s the bottom 20% that have the highest tax burden while the top 5% have the lowest.

Christie has made the problem that much worse. Time and again Governor Christie has demonstrably favored the rich over the rest. He campaigned against the entirely sensible 1 year rate increase on people making over $400,000 per year, and after it expired he repeatedly vetoed every attempt to reinstate it. He’s given $1.4 billion in ‘mega deals’ to big corporations that haven’t delivered much in the way of the jobs we were promised. He vetoed a reasonable minimum wage proposal, cut the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, and kicked hundreds of legal immigrants earning low wages out of affordable health care programs. And he’s failed to push any plan—outside his failed tax cuts for big corporations—that might solve New Jersey’s jobs crisis.  

Big opportunities missed in this year’s budget

Yesterday legislators sent Governor Christie their FY 14 budget bill. Though it does not include Christie’s coveted tax cut, it largely resembles Christie’s February proposal. There are a few commendable tweaks like increasing funding for nursing homes and funding the higher ed reorganization, but it still underfunds our public schools by over $1 billion, keeps Christie’s tax hike on the working poor firmly in place, and makes no moves to rehire police officers in New Jersey’s urban centers. Even worse, it passes on a coherent approach to jobs creation in favor of yet more corporate tax breaks.

Many legislators are dissatisfied with this status quo budget and said so. Barbara Buono gave a great, impassioned speech where she rightly said the budget failed NJ taxpayers. Dick Codey said that the budget needed a ‘heart’ transplant, and Loretta Weinberg voted her conscience against a budget that continues to keep women’s health funding on the cutting room floor.

Unfortunately, other legislators shrugged their shoulders and even seemed to imply that this budget negotiation might be the template for future years. “We don’t have the money,” Steve Sweeney told NJ Spotlight yesterday. It’s a sentiment that other legislators have echoed – but it’s just not convincing.

Yes, this year’s budget surplus is small. Is it any wonder, when people making $400,000 per year are enjoying their third straight year in a row of a $1 billion tax break? This year’s budget alone includes $200 million in corporate tax breaks, some of them directly targeted to large, multistate corporations. And that’s not even including the giveaways the state has offered to the likes of Panasonic, Citigroup, Prudential. In total we’ve offered over $2.1 billion in present and future revenue to corporations, over 20 of which have taken the money and laid off workers anyway.

Christie’s budget gets a pass

Rob Duffey is Policy and Communications Coordinator for the New Jersey Working Families Alliance

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a great take on this year’s budget ‘debate,’ and the title says it all: "Lawmakers introduce Christie-friendly N.J. budget." Though it once again leaves Christie’s reckless tax cut proposal on life support, which is a victory for responsible governance, the budget passed out of the Senate and Assembly Committees largely resembles the proposal Gov. Christie issued in February, warts and all. It underfunds our schools by $1 billion, raids the state’s Clean Energy Fund, keeps Christie’s tax hike on the working poor firmly in place, and fails to take forward-looking steps like expanding preschools or addressing New Jersey’s dangerously outdated infrastructure. And at its core, it fails to do much of anything to address New Jersey’s jobs crisis.

New Jersey can do better, but not if legislators accept Chris Christie’s fiscal reality. Jeff Van Drew says: "I don’t want to be the cranky guy at the party, but we are going to continue to have tough budgets." And Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo justifies the proposal by saying that it reflects "the difficult economic decisions that continue to require hard decisions on state finances."

New Jersey does have a tight budget. But is it any wonder, when for the last three years we’ve been giving billions in tax breaks to the 1% and corporations? People making $400,000 per year continue to pay less in taxes than they did in 2009, and this budget alone has over $200 million in corporate tax cuts. Worse yet, the legislature has been a cheerleader for billions in future tax cuts to some of the world’s most profitable multinational corporations: Citigroup, Prudential, Panasonic, Honeywell and Pearson Education. Those grants could easily make for ‘tight’ budgets for years to come.  

Chris Christie uses the working poor as bargaining chips

Bill Holland is executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, based in Newark. Promoted by Rosi.

Cross-posted with the Press of Atlantic City.

Last week – on Tax Day – Gov. Chris Christie took the opportunity to veto a bill that would have ended his 3-year-old tax increase on 500,000 of New Jersey’s working families – including 23,000 in Atlantic County. Instead, the governor has chosen to yet again hold their livelihoods hostage to secure a reckless tax cut for residents making as much as $400,000 a year.

Half a million hardworking New Jersey families rely on the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. The refundable tax credit helps offset the high cost of living for low-income families and gives adults an incentive to work instead of relying on welfare or other public programs. And it’s been championed by conservatives – including Ronald Reagan, who called it “the best anti-poverty, best pro-family policy, best job-creating measure to come out of Congress.”

But in early 2010, Christie slashed the EITC, essentially raising taxes on 500,000. He cut the state credit by 20 percent, costing some families up to a week’s pay. And while he claimed raising taxes on the working poor was necessary, he allowed tax rates on the richest 1 percent to drop that same year.

Don’t spend it all in one place

A few days ago Rosi cited our recent email on Christie’s outrageous claim that he plans to increase school aid for 378 districts.

What Christie didn’t say is that 70 of those 378 would be getting negligible increases. Forty of them would receive just a dollar. South Bound Brook gets $2 — don’t ask us why.

Calling $1 an increase is ridiculous, especially after underfunding New Jersey schools to the tune of $3.6 billion so far. But it’s also the Governor’s approach to education in a nutshell: cut it to the bone, give back scraps and say that families should be grateful for even that.

Yesterday some parents in one of the forty ‘One Dollar Districts’ let him know that a single buck isn’t good enough after years of cuts. Working with Our Children/Our Schools, a statewide advocacy network, South Brunswick parents staged a press conference that made the Star-Ledger, the front page of the Home News Tribune , and the South Brunswick Patch.  

A budget without a jobs plan

Today Governor Christie delivers his fourth and final State of the Budget Address this term. His administration has been particularly close-mouthed about what’s in this year’s budget proposal, but there are a few things we can say with relative certainty.

1) It will include over half a billion in tax cuts for corporations.

2) It will fail to undo the damage of three years of devastating cuts to public schools, public safety, higher education, transit and green jobs development.

3) It’s every bit as likely to fail to jump start the state’s economy as his last three.