Friday Facts and Figures is a weekly newsletter with data points, analysis, and commentary on the biggest policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
Sign up here.
Vaccine Doses: 9,899,849
Fully Vaccinated People: 4,977,817
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
New Jersey has a new budget — and the entire team here at NJPP read through it so you don’t have to! This incredibly thorough budget breakdown looks at some of the biggest investments in the appropriations bill, how they stack up against previous budgets, and what’s missing. Taken as a whole, this year’s budget funds the immediate needs of the state’s pandemic recovery, makes big investments in key state assets like public schools and health care, makes a historic pension payment, and pays down billions of dollars of debt. But it’s not all good news. The budget once again shuts out undocumented immigrants from pandemic relief, and the process through which it was passed was truly shameful. [NJPP / Nicole Rodriguez, Sheila Reynertson, Brittany Holom-Trundy, Vineeta Kapahi, Marleina Ubel]
The original draft of the NJPP budget breakdown celebrated the state’s $1.3 billion rainy day fund. We had to take it out, however, because right before we published the report, news broke that the reserve fund had already been drained by the state Treasury for reasons that are not entirely clear. This was a surprise to us, lawmakers, and the press alike, who all praised the budget bill for replenishing the state’s reserves. Regardless of why this happened, this confusion exemplifies how broken the state’s budget process is. The legislative and executive branches should have a shared understanding of what’s in the budget and how it will be enacted before it’s voted on or signed into law. That clearly wasn’t the case this year. Big shout out to John Reitmeyer at NJ Spotlight News for shining a light on this. [NJ Spotlight News / John Reitmeyer]
The state budget may be a moral document, but it is often passed through an immoral legislative process. After the $46.4 billion budget was voted on a mere 11 minutes after the bill text was made public, a growing chorus of advocates, government watch dogs, and editorial boards have called for pro-transparency reforms. On Tuesday, members of the United Black Agenda called on Governor Murphy and legislative leaders to make the budget process more inclusive and transparent, saying that the current process largely shuts out the voices of Black and Brown communities. In their public statement, the coalition of Black leaders backed a proposal to require waiting periods between when bills are made public and when they are voted on. [NJ Globe / Nikita Biryukov]
While this year’s state budget makes big investments in the state’s pandemic recovery, it also represents a missed opportunity to enact bold, transformative policies to address the racial disparities laid bare by COVID-19. As NJPP Senior Policy Analyst Sheila Reynertson told The Record, this would have been the perfect year for the state to establish a baby bonds program given the state’s $10 billion surplus. For those unfamiliar, baby bonds are a government-funded savings account for newborns meant to help close the racial wealth gap. Governor Murphy proposed a baby bond program in his budget proposal last year (it did not make it into the final budget) and Senator Booker has long-championed a more robust federal baby bonds program in Congress. [NorthJersey.com / Stacey Barchenger]
Another missed opportunity in this year’s budget: NJ Transit continues to go without a dedicated source of funding. Instead, the budget once again transfers $360 million from NJ Transit’s capital budget to pay for operating expenses, leaving the agency without funds to pay for critical expansion projects. “This was the year to put our public transit system, the backbone of our economy, on solid footing,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “And we just blew a great opportunity to do that.” [NJ.com / Star-Ledger Editorial Board]
A powerful op-ed by former Public Advocate Ron Chen and former state Attorney General John Farmer, Jr. makes a clear case for abolishing the line on New Jersey’s primary ballots. It also cites NJPP research on the line by Trustee Julia Sass Rubin. Chen and Farmer are two of the top legal minds in New Jersey, so this is a big deal and definitely worth reading and sharing. [NJ.com / Ronald Chen and John Farmer, Jr.]
Pets of NJPP
Have a fact or figure for us? Tweet it to @NJPolicy.