Being a progressive legislator in Trenton is not an easy job these days. I spent a good portion of this past week meeting with various groups who wanted to point out to me personally what the loss of state funds meant to their particular missions: less hours of operation of the local library; closing sheltered workshop locations which give developmentally disabled folks paid work slots along with their sense of independence and pride; reducing the amount of frail elderly who can be accommodated at a medical day care center; closing a pre-school program for lack of funds and so it goes!
This past Thursday, we voted in the Legislature the bill re-instituting the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax”. First let’s get the facts straight: the one year tax which expired in December, 2009 was a surcharge on all those earnings over $400,000 – really a “less than millionaire’s tax”. The 2010 version which passed the legislature on Thursday is a surcharge on only that income in excess of $1million earned. In other words, if one earns $1 million and $10, the surcharge (or additional tax) is only paid on the $10. Anything up to $1 million earned is taxed at the current rates. So we passed a reasonable alternative to grave cuts in important programs, and the Governor was ready, pen-in-hand, to veto the bill. A day of drama, that ended without real forward movement.
Oh yes, I did get my bill passed in the Senate which does put additional public input and health analysis on any move by Horizon Blue Cross to privatize. And how would you like to be Bill Marino, the CEO of Horizon who just received a bonus in excess of $7 million? Guess the veto of the “Millionaires Tax” will save him a few dollars! And where did that “bonus” money come from? How come Governor Christie has not called to cap salaries on that “non-profit” which derives its income from all those paying premiums for health insurance.
With all the depressing issues, we did have some sunny highlights. 30,000 folks or more turned out in Trenton to condemn the draconian budget cuts put forth by Governor Christie and the Republicans. They took a Saturday to travel to Trenton and make a stand! Let’s hope some folks pay attention. On Sunday I was privileged to attend the Hunterdon Democratic brunch along with Congressman Rush Holt and Democratic Chair John Wisnewski. My wonderful job was to present the Professor Carey McWilliams award to Blue Jersey, Hunterdon County and Democracy For America’s own Rosi Efthim! What a treat! As the program said “progressive politics is in Rosi’s DNA.” Learning about Professor McWiliams was also a treat. He was a transplanted Californian who was not only an academician and author in the field of political science, but also a practitioner, having served as a Democratic Committeeman, a councilman and Municipal Chair in Flemington.
Rosi was truly surprised by the beautiful award, and I was moved by being asked to present it to her. Knowing there are women like Rosi in the generation of leaders behind gives me confidence in our future. Thank you Rosi for all you do! You are truly an inspiration!
And so another week begins. I’ll be visiting an ARC sheltered workshop to see firsthand the work they do; will be attending a group meeting of students who are planning to speak about sensible alternatives to school cuts, will lead a Senate Health Committee meeting on Thursday with some questions for our new Health Commissioner, will be meeting with Bergen County area social service agencies about what the budget cuts mean to them and am going to an evening discussion on women and politics with a group or Israeli women political leaders visiting our country. Lots to do, and lots to talk about.
We “progressive Democrats” have to find our collective voice. We do have to address our serious budget problems; we need all our public employees part of the solution and not deride them as “the problem”; we need to clearly let the public know that while the Governor does his mantra of “no new taxes”, his budget will directly result in the biggest increase in property taxes in our lifetime. This is our challenge and I will work to make sure we are up to it!
Keep your voices heard!