Author Archive: Bill Orr

About Bill Orr

University of Virginia Masters in English. Have lived in Argentina, Panama, Delaware, Virginia, California, NYC, and New Jersey for the last 25 years. Former editor and manager at McGraw-Hill, former President of Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, founder of NJ ActUp, and North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark.

NJ ACLU: 50 Years Protecting Our Liberty

As the Star Ledger points out, on Wednesday, NJ ACLU marks its 50th anniversary. Over the years this group has played an instrumental role in shaping our laws and our lives. I can speak personally as to how their guidance and activities helped several organizations – and as a result many people.  

In a pioneering effort in the late 1980’s NJ ACLU assisted the Gay Activist Alliance of NJ and the NJ LGBT Coalition in their efforts to add LGBT’s to the NJ Law Against Discrimination. This involved legislative effort and started with a demonstration in Ridgewood against then Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Walter Kern who opposed the bill. Later Kern for other reasons left the senate but the law was amended. The ACLU Executive Director then undertook the volunteer task of providing sensitivity training to NJ State troopers.

Soon afterward NJ ACT UP was helped on many occasions by the ACLU. ACT UP’s first demonstration was scheduled for Paterson. There its Mayor and then Chair of the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee, Frank Graves (author of numerous brutally tough drug laws) refused a permit. A call to him from the ACLU explaining our constitution and that part about the “right of the people peaceably to assemble” resulted in the permit. Later in East Rutherford where ambulance drivers had refused to pick up up a person with HIV, the ACLU helped in obtaining a consent decree against the town issued by the NJ Division on Civil Rights. After these early efforts the ACLU continued leadership in HIV/AIDS issues.

Throughout the 2000’s NJ ACLU has continued as an active participant in defending and promoting our rights on many fronts, including within the HIV, LGBT, and corrections communities. You can read more about their current activities at their website. Their efforts and achievements have far exceeded what I can describe. Today the NJ ACLU lawyers, staff and volunteers, energetically continue the important tradition of safeguarding and strengthening our civil liberties. May they do so for at least another 50 years.  


It’s Time to Lead

This diary makes an interesting companion to this diary of Thurman’s. – promoted by Rosi Efthim

As Democratic legislators search for leadership and solutions, below are key problems areas and possible solutions which have both micro and macro impact on our struggling economy.  There ARE things the legislature can do.

According to Realty Trak, NJ new foreclosure filings were a high 7,993 in May and 30,555 YTD.  Foreclosure sales were a low 214 in May and only 3,365 YTD. Tax incentives to help people purchase homes and increase the sale of new and foreclosed properties helps individuals, neighborhoods, and the state. The legislature has just passed such a measure, but the governor is considering vetoing it – penny wise but pound foolish.  The legislature should pressure the governor. This is a great example of the legislature displaying leadership. Another proposal to reduce foreclosures is needed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor NJ unemployment has hovered around 448,000 since the beginning of the year (9.8% seasonally adjusted.) Pre-recession in May 2007 unemployment was 186,000 (4.2%.) The legislature should insist on not reducing or delaying unemployment benefits.  Given the high cost of unemployment to the state and the resulting pain inflicted on the individuals, the legislature should seek creative ways to keep both government and non-government workers in their jobs, even if its temporarily without a salary increase, includes furloughs or offers reduced benefenits – not a popular move but better than the alternative.

Our highest category of unemployment is in construction, which includes roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, which since the beginning of the year has averaged about 127,000 NJ workers (13% unemployment.)  With our transportation fund expected by next year to have only sufficient monies to pay back existing debt, not only can we look forward to infrastructure deterioration but an increase in unemployment. Without waiting for the governor, our legislature should work quickly to propose a reasonable, fair way to raise needed monies for the transportation fund.

Housing and unemployment are the big drivers of our current malaise and have ripple effects throughout our state. It appears we may have another two years of economic doldrums. Our legislature can sit back and let the governor cut, cut, and cut which leads to stagnation (or worse), or the legislature can come up with proposals of its own. They have already done so in one case with their home tax incentive, let’s hope they come up with other creative solutions. It’s time to lead.

It’s called football not soccer

For those who are getting their football on today. Promoted by Rosi Efthim

The world’s crazed attention has begun to focus on The World Cup, this year in South Africa. Team USA trained in Roberts Stadium at Princeton University. Although the Kearny and Harrison area has historically produced great players, none on Team USA’s roster are currently playing in New Jersey.  Five members – Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Ricardo Clark, Michael Bradley, and Edson Buddle – have played here in the past, as well Coach Bob Bradley.

On Saturday we take on our friends across the pond. It will be a tough battle with the Brits, but we have had tough battles with them before.

For people who want to watch local Major League Soccer (whoops football),  the NY Red Bulls are now located at an accessible new arena in Harrison. Throughout Bergen, and many other counties, mid to large size parks are teeming with amateur football games. For people who like to read about sports there is a wonderful novel by Joseph O’Neil: Netherland, in part about football games in our area.    


Medical Marijuana

Promoted by Rosi Efthim

As the Department of Health works to complete its policies, procedures, and regulations in order to implement the Compassionate Medical Marijuana Act, below are some suggestions regarding concerns that have been raised.

The law contemplates the Alternative Treatment Centers (ATC’s) as not only distribution but cultivation sites. Much of the cannabis will be distributed by ATC’s located in urban cities, but these are not good sites for cultivating marijuana. High security and space rental expenses would render it cost-ineffective.  

The cultivation should be done elsewhere by several experienced growers who have the financial where-with-all and ample experience to produce sufficient high quantity and quality and continue in business in spite of occasional bad weather or glitches that impede indoor cultivation.  

There have been concerns expressed about transporting the cannabis to the ATC’s. For many years methadone clinics have successfully used transportation services for their even more expensive product.

Providing the ATC’s with cannabis at a price that allows them to sell it slightly below or at the same approximate “street” price is important.  With a too-high price people in need will return to street vendors. (Also if it is resold at a very low price street vendors will retaliate against the ATC’s who they will view as competitors.)

This law imposes a heavy burden on the ATC’s. It is important for the Health Department to simplify procedures as much as possible. ATC’s will have many costs and procedures that street vendors don’t always have: liaison with local police authorities, State permitting/application fee, liaison and education with physicians, indoor space usage, security guards, explaining the law/requirements to each patient, regulatory monitoring and compliance, processing the registry ID card, multiple criminal history background checks, reporting requirements, providing support group meetings, and more.  

Although provisions requested by Governor-elect Christie during the lameduck legislative session made this law unusually onerous and restrictive, the Department of Health should speed up its effort to complete the regulations. This is not rocket science. People in serious pain have every reason to expect their government to act with all deliberate speed and to have regulations completed by the deadline set by law.  

Legislators: “Where Do You Want To Go?”

Okay, this is BillOrr’s proposal, what do you think, Blue Jersey? Agree? Disagree? This is about what’s next. – Promoted by Rosi Efthim

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.”  (Lewis Carroll)

Our Democratic legislators do not know where they want to go, but they better come up with an answer soon. In the face of Christie’s proposals, which are staggering in breadth and depth, legislators have only been nipping at the Governor’s heels. They are working on the budget but have reacted forcefully to too few Christie proposals. Their version of the Millionaire’s tax was a tactic, not a strategy nor coherent plan. Indeed, their non-appearance at Trenton’s largest rally only magnifies their indecision and lack of leadership.

Republicans had their “Contract with America.” However simplistic, it has the virtue of summarizing key positions and goals in a way that the public can understand. Democrats, starting with their leadership, need something similar.

To get us through the current economic malaise, below are some of the things legislators can do:

Increase taxes: Within the income tax there are billions of dollars of exemptions, some of which could be curtailed, and a variety of potential increased rates based on income over $400,000.  There are many other taxes the state collects, including corporation, sales, inheritance, gas, insurance, casino, motor vehicle, realty, cigarette, bank, alcoholic beverage, public utility, etc.

Re-alter budget priorities: Reduce expenditures in a Christie priority to have more funds for another priority.  Where new funds are raised through taxes, increase appropriate budget lines.

Take more advantage of federal and foundation grants: For each grant the State has to inject about 25% of the cost but receives 75% which goes into our economy and funds needed programs.

Borrow money: Difficult in today’s environment, but Christie borrows when he fails to fund the Pension Plan or adequately provide for the transportation fund. The feds are a source for loans.

Legislators have been talking individually about what programs or constituencies need more support, but now they must get together and formulate a coherent strategy. Christie has enunciated his plan, drawn his line in  the sand, and gained enthusiasts as a result.  People through a variety of rallies have indicated their concerns. It’s time for Democratic legislators to stop nipping at the governor’s heels and create their own clear, compelling plan – one we can understand and fight for. I expect them to develop soon a good answer for the Cheshire cat.  

DADT Vote Coming Up

According to various sources, including the Washington Post, “President Obama has endorsed a “Dont’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise between lawmakers and the Defense Department,” which might be inserted in a military funding bill as soon as this week.  It is not clear, however, whether there are enough votes in the House.  These are the current NJ co-sponsors of the HR1246 DADT bill: Andrews, Holt, Pallone,Pascrell, Payne, Rothman and Sires. If your Representative is not on this list contact him.

“All Is Threatened And Endangered”

Before attending Saturday’s “Stand Up” Trenton rally, we went around the corner to the Old Barracks Museum and were greeted by live drum and fife music. In the first room you immediately see a sign, “All is threatened and endangered.” In 1757 Native Americans had thrown their allegiance to the French. The alarmed British put out a call for troops starting New Jersey’s involvement in the French and Indian War. This part of pre-revolutionary history comes alive at the old Barracks, which at different times has housed as many as 300 soldiers and served as a troop infirmary. (Early medical instruments look much like tools you might have in your own garage!)

Today the Barracks remains one of only two Revolutionary war sites in New Jersey. Although the State has been providing $375,000 a year, the Governor’s Budget eliminates all State funding. Monies raised through visitor fees, educational services and grants are insufficient to keep it open. The Old Barracks Museum maintains and enriches our understanding of early NJ history, yet like many other institutions today it is truly threatened and endangered.    

Budget Cuts Plus Tax Increases: The better Way

New Jersey is not unique. Nation-wide 48 states are facing budget deficits, and because they have to balance their budgets, they must cut spending and/or raise taxes. Both approaches take money out of the economy making the downturn worse. However, two highly regarded economists, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, and Peter Orszag, director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, have written that  spending cuts could actually be more harmful for a state’s economy during a recession than tax increases. Furthermore, “The conclusion is that, if anything, tax increases on higher-income families are the least damaging mechanism for closing state fiscal deficits in the short run.”

When NJ government cuts spending its impact is local. State, municipal, and county employees are let go, contracts and grants to small businesses and non-profits are reduced, local unemployment increases, and all businesses in the state suffer as a result. The costs to the state of increased or continued high unemployment are significant. The damage is particularly severe to the most vulnerable who suffer severely from cuts in services and transfer payments, such as public transportation, health care, and homestead rebates. The economy as  a whole is harmed when programs such as job retraining, bridge construction, and environmental protection are reduced. The negative impact of these cuts is magnified at a time when state revenues are decreasing, unemployment is high, and the economy remain in serious trouble.

Increasing taxes, on the other hand, provides NJ with more revenue to reduce some of the negative impact of whatever cuts are essential. Fortunately, the effect of increasing taxes impacts less on the local economy. As Stiglitz and Orzag point out, “Part of the decline in purchases that would occur if taxes were raised would be a decline in the purchase of goods produced out of state.” Likewise, taxes that can be charged to out-of-state residents, such as gas or road toll fees, increase revenue from non-state sources.

Increased taxes aimed at the wealthiest has the least negative impact.  This group has higher savings and investments and so can more easily meet its essential needs, as opposed to the less wealthy who face day-to-day difficult purchasing choices. As the wealthier tend to buy more out-of-state purchases, such has reduced impact on NJ. If they need to tap their savings, their expenditures further help our economy.  

Jon Shure, founder of NJ Public Policy has said, “When the recession hit New Jersey, it was like a tornado hitting a house that was already falling.”  Indeed property taxes, past increases in sales and income taxes, and general over-spending has put us in a difficult position. We of necessity will have to make budget cuts. However, in the midst of a severe recession, budget cuts like self-inflicted wounds will slow down our recovery. Tax increases, particularly those impacting the wealthier and the out-of-state, have to be a part of a sound recovery plan.  

Good Try Governor!

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

UPDATE: I’ve posted the response to the governor’s plan in a diary in the right column, called ‘Dem response to Christie’s budget fix’ – Rosi Efthim

Our governor is proving himself wily as he seeks to counter the Legislature’s plan to vote tomorrow on a Millionaire’s Tax bill and a Funds Restoration bill. Acccording to the Star Ledger, suddenly today he announced availability of monies to eliminate his proposed increase in prescription copayments and annual deductibles on the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled Program (PAAD) recipients and annual deductibles on Senior Gold recipients.  How convenient! These newly available funds were part of the legislature’s Funds Restoration bill which would specify how monies collected from the millionaire’s tax were to be spent.  

So I guess we no longer need the millionaire’s tax? Not so.  His restoring funds for seniors and the disabled shows his “compassion” for this group, but really seeks to remove the need for a millionaire’s tax. The Funds Restoration bill is crafted to appropriate $619 million from the Millionaire’s Tax not only for the PAAD program but also for the Homestead Property Tax Rebate/Credit program for seniors and the disabled. Christie’s ploy is to restore $55 million for the PAAD program but nothing for property tax relief.  Naturally he is not proposing to restore library, transit, women health clinics, job training or any of the myriad of programs he is slashing in his budget.  In effect he is only restoring $55 million of the $619 million foreseen in the Legislature’s bill.

The Legislature should continue with its Millionaire’s Tax plan undeterred, but  present it next month to the governor, and negotiate its passage as an integral part of passing the larger budget bill.  The Legislature can also modify its Fund Restoration bill to restore other cuts.  

Two Bills Made for Each Other

Senator Sweeney’s new millionaire tax bill is wisely being combined with a funds restoration bill – measures that should appeal to people who believe the tax burden must be more fairly shared and that the elderly and disabled should be better treated.

There is a misconception that Sweeney’s proposal increases the tax rate on people earning $1 million. It does not. Depending on people’s filing status their tax remains $72,657 or $74,573. It is only on any excess above $1 million that they pay the higher 10.75% rate.

The bill indicates that the revenue generated from this bill “will be used to restore critical programs that would otherwise be cut or reduced in the annual appropriations act.”  Although a separate appropriations bill would specify the specific programs to be affected, it appears the emphasis for funding restoration is on the elderly and disabled.

This tax bill only becomes operative if the funding restoration bill is enacted.  From a strategic point-of-view I hope the the legislature passes both the tax bill and funding restoration bill at the same time preferably in mid or late June.  If the tax bill were enacted quickly and sent to the governor he would likely veto it and render it dead as the legislature would be hard-put to override it.  As a package, presented to the governor together as the June 30 deadline looms, the tax bill combined with the funds restoration bill will have more appeal to the general public and be harder to veto.