Tag Archive: Albert Coutinho

Bill to Decriminalize small amounts of Marijuana garners 18 co-sponsors.

22,439 people were arrested in New Jersey for possessing less than 50 grams* of cannabis in 2009.

FreedomIsGreen.Com, a local blog devoted to advancing more enlightened cannabis policy in New Jersey is reporting an an intriguing new bill on the Assembly docket that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Garden State.

The bill, which already has 18 co-sponsors (5 from the GOP) was introduced by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), the same bi-partisan duo that introduced the state’s nascent medical marijuana law.

Amend It, Don’t End It

When your Chevy gets a flat tire, you’re not happy, but you don’t throw out the car, you repair the tire. Yet, if Governor Christie were your mechanic, he would not only sell your entire car, but give the money to one of his friends to help buy a Lamborghini. That’s the analogy that fits the Governor’s approach to the highly successful Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program.

The UEZ program has been in effect in New Jersey for three decades. Started under Governor Kean, it provides incentives for the establishment and operation of businesses in challenging urban areas. The money spent in providing these incentives has provided returns many times over. Yet, Governor Christie has announced that he is ending the program on June 30 and will use the funds to once again help balance the state’s budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.

Assemblyman Albert Coutinho chaired a session of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee this afternoon to hear testimony on the UEZ program and the impact of the governor’s axe.

Assemblyman Coutinho

What Would You Do with $409 Million?

That figure is the difference between the two year income projections from the State Treasurer and from the Office of Legislative Services. At a hearing before the Assembly Budget Committee, State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff called the difference “insignificant” while not answering Chairman Louis Greenwald’s question about how to reconcile that difference.

Even though the income estimates have improved, the treasurer admitted that his office has not done any contingency planning in the event of what he calls an “unfavorable” decision by the Supreme Court in the pending school funding case.

While both Sidamon-Eristoff and Greenwald touted the need for property tax relief, the Treasurer’s approach depends on further sacrifices by public workers in their health benefits. Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) contended that as the economy improves, the poor and middle class that have assumed the “shared” sacrifice in the past few years should be at the front of the line for relief as the state’s economy improves.

Burzichelli and Sidamon-Eristoff debated the assertion that New Jersey’s taxes are driving the wealthy from the state. The treasurer cited some anecdotal evidence and pointed out that the difference between the highest and lowest tax rates is a factor of five. Yet, he didn’t mention the income ratio between the highest and lowest of the state’s wage earners, which is undoubedtly greater.

Sidamon-Eristoff said the Governor has recommended increasing the contribution to the pension fund, but interestingly his rationale had to do with the state’s credit rating rather than out of any apparent concern for pension holders.

In response to a question from Chairman Greenwald, the treasurer explained that New Jersey’s lag in following the national employment recovery is due to the fact that we are about a year ahead of other states in reducing public sector employment, a “good thing” in his world. He is projecting New Jersey’s unemployment rate will be 8.4% by the end of next year as the private sector starts hiring.

Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark) questined the treasurer on the slow pace of jobs recovery in New Jersey. Coutinho pointed out that employers are not hiring because the economy is soft, and we need to do more to stimulate job creation.

The Treasurer cautioned that the improvement of our financial news does not indicate that we should increase state spending. Like Dr. Rosen this morning, Sidamon-Eristoff pointed out the huge structural deficit that still needs to be addressed.

Chairman Greenwald pointed out that today’s session concludes the hearing phase of the budget process. But I’m sure we will be hearing more about the budget between now and November.

Our Economy: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“We all agree on the need to improve our economy and create jobs that will help make New Jersey more affordable, and we all know that sustainable jobs and a strong economy will go a long way toward solving our structural budget problems.” – Assembly Budget Chair Louis D. Greenwald

On Thursday in the midst of the RTTT hearing and Governor Christie’s ARC announcement, the Assembly held a special committee hearing on economic development. After the meeting Greenwald said, “It’s also now clear why the governor sent only one official to today’s hearing: the economy – jobs and economic development especially for working class New Jerseyans, are just not his priority.”

I hope that jobs and the economy become a priority for Democrats. What we heard were a lot of words. As is often the case with such hearings, no action plan was immediately forthcoming.  Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Chairman Albert Coutinho opened the hearing by summarizing possible avenues for legislation:

 *  Provide tax breaks and incentives for businesses.

 *  Alter burdensome rules and regulations.

 *  promote renewable energy, green jobs and industry.

 *  Control business and employee health insurance costs.

 *  Make the state more competitive with neighboring states.

 *  Seek federal assistance help to create jobs.

 *  Explore the role tourism plays in economic recovery.

Ok Assemblypersons, it’s now time to walk the talk. New Jerseyans are counting on you to make jobs and economic development your priority.

This is an open thread… Add your own suggestion on what the legislature should do.