February 22, 2020 – Earlier today, a diverse group of advocates and community leaders from across the state called on Governor Murphy and legislative leaders to pass a budget that fully funds New Jersey’s pandemic recovery. Members of the For The Many NJ coalition convened virtually on Zoom and Facebook Live to stress the need for bold public investments in public health, education, housing, and more in response to the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19.
“A strong recovery requires a steady drumbeat of investments to keep the economy going,” said Sheila Reynertson, Senior Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “In the face of an ongoing public health crisis, the state’s primary obligation must be to respond to the demands of the moment, not short-change them. Policy decisions made today will make the difference between a sluggish recovery and a strong one.”
Members of the coalition pointed to New Jersey’s sluggish recovery from the Great Recession and warned lawmakers against trickle-down tax and budgetary policies that stifle economic growth.
“Our spending requests run the gamut from housing to utility assistance, to an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child tax credits, to health coverage for all children and direct cash assistance for working immigrants excluded from COVID relief,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Associate Director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “It’s a large investment package, but one necessary to ensure a recovery for all, the only kind of recovery that can be effective — a recovery that invests from the bottom up and not the other way around.”
After the last recession, New Jersey responded with tax cuts for corporations and big businesses, and spending cuts that damaged the state’s ability to respond to COVID-19.
“New Jersey already knows what austerity life feels like,” said Sue Altman, Executive Director of New Jersey Working Families. “It feels like cuts to beloved school programs. It feels like rickety, dangerous bridges and potholed highways. It feels like closed parks and dirty air. It feels like layoffs and cut wages for public workers. We are not going down that road again. New Jersey’s best days can be ahead of us if we reimagine and reinvest in an economy that works for us all. Not just the chosen few.”
Members of For The Many NJ stressed that the last decade of spending cuts necessitate new investments, especially in public health infrastructure.
“If the coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it is that we can no longer turn a blind eye to infectious disease outbreaks,” said Debbie White, RN, President of Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE). “We have come to understand that investment in New Jersey’s public health infrastructure and in the oversight of New Jersey’s health care systems must become our paramount priority.”
Advocates for strong public schools joined For The Many NJ to highlight the chronic underfunding of public education, including higher education. Schools need resources now more than ever to adapt to the pandemic and ensure places of learning are safe for students and staff alike.
“Members of the Our Children/Our Schools network are united in affirming the need to preserve and expand resources in every school district to allow all students and schools to re-emerge stronger from the current public health and economic emergency,” said Greg Stankiewicz, Statewide Coordinator of the NJ Community Schools Coalition, an OC/OS member organization.
Professor Todd Wolfson, President of Rutgers AAUP-AFT echoed those sentiments, saying, “On the heels of the pandemic it is time for New Jersey to make a deep investment in public higher education. We are calling for a New Deal for Rutgers and Higher Education that prioritizes debt-free education for New Jersey residents, Support for first-generation and students of color, and a diverse, world-class faculty for our colleges and universities.”
The coalition also called for the state to support New Jersey’s 500,000 undocumented immigrants families, who have been almost entirely excluded from state and federal pandemic relief. Providing relief to immigrant families is not only the right thing to do, but good economic policy.
“Immigrants makeup nearly 1 in 4 of New Jersey residents and have overwhelmingly served on the frontlines of the essential workforce, service industry, and care economy,” said Amy Torres, Executive Director at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “Immigrant workers were excluded from federal relief, but New Jersey’s steep disparities in wealth inequality existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why the Alliance is proud to stand alongside the For The Many coalition to demand an equitable budget where wealthy families and large corporations pay their fair share.”
Latino Action Network President Christian Estevez called for a recovery for all that leaves no one behind, saying, “State investment in the capacity of Hispanic Serving Community Based Organizations with proven records of conducting successful outreach is critical to an equitable response to the COVID-19 crisis that does not leave the Latino community behind. Latino families are over-represented in overall COVID-19 infections and deaths and woefully underrepresented in those that have access to vaccines.”
For The Many NJ was quick to point out that, even before the pandemic hit, far too many New Jersey families were falling behind and in need of support, as evidenced by the latest ALICE report by United Way of Northern New Jersey. In 2018, nearly four out of ten families in New Jersey were living in poverty or right above the party line but still unable to afford basic needs.
“The public health and economic crises of nearly a year have laid bare the injustices that fall disproportionately on low-income residents who are primarily Black and brown people and women,” said Anti-Poverty Network of NJ Executive Director, Renee Koubiadis. “New Jersey must continue to create tax fairness and justice that started with the passing of the millionaire’s tax last fall, by creating new sustainable revenue sources that can lay the foundation for comprehensive and just relief for those most impacted by the pandemic.”
Rev. Sara Lilja, Director of Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry, added, “Budgets are moral documents. How we, as a state choose to raise funds and spend dollars communicate our common priorities and shared values. In short, our actions and choices speak louder and clear. We must put families and those most vulnerable first in this budget!”
“Fair Share Housing Center of NJ stands in solidarity with our partners,” said James Williams, Director of Racial Justice Policy at the Fair Share Housing Center. “Our efforts for housing justice are tied directly to fiscal equality and transparency from our elected officials. More importantly, we look forward to Gov. Murphy’s continued support to fund the Affordable Housing trust fund.”
Advocates for the environment tied the state’s public and economic health to its environmental health.
“The budget is a statement of priorities, it sets the state’s moral compass. DEP’s 2020 Global Warming Response report recommends over 150 actions. They are critically needed to Fund The Recovery and address the overlapping health, economic, racial justice and climate crises we face,” said Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey State Director, Clean Water Action. “The resources are there — the Biden federal stimulus, new toll hike revenue, COVID-19 emergency bonding, millionaire’s tax, and corporate tax reform. Governor Murphy and the State Legislature must support working families and disadvantaged communities and ensure the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share and create a just green recovery.”
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, added “As New Jersey moves forward and comes out of the coronavirus pandemic, we need a budget that is fair. A budget that protects the environment and moves us forward. More importantly, we need a budget that is equitable, that closes tax loopholes, and stops subsidies and raids to critical funds. We cannot continue to raid critical funds for brownfields, clean energy, and more to balance the budget. We need to get money out there for clean energy. We also need a dedicated funding source for NJ Transit so that people can get to work. It is critical to fund and move New Jersey forward when it comes to green jobs, renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gases, protecting overburdened communities, and safeguarding the environment.”
“The time to end the raids on the Clean Energy Fund and move forward on dedicated funding for NJ Transit is in this budget cycle – the clean energy economy and mass transit needs this investment more than ever before,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Clean Energy Fund diversions hamper the transition to clean energy and these raids won’t solve NJ Transit’s capital budget deficit. We urge Gov. Murphy to use the FY 2022 budget to fulfill his pledge to end these raids and move towards dedicated funding for NJ Transit.”
To fund new investments, the coalition called on state lawmakers to close corporate tax loopholes, such as those in New Jersey’s combined reporting law, and the reverse ill-advised tax cuts of the past, like the recent micro-cent sales tax cut and the elimination of the estate tax. These changes alone would raise over $1 billion in recurring revenue.
For The Many is a statewide coalition of more than 30 organizations working collectively to expand funding for essential services and improve budget practices to adequately meet current and future needs, especially for communities that have been historically marginalized.