Friday Facts and Figures is a brief digital newsletter focusing on data points from NJPP reports, research, and policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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COVID-19 Cases: 172,356 | Deaths: 13,251
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
Earlier this week, New Jersey lawmakers passed a three-month budget that makes $4 billion in cuts to public services and programs for seniors, children, local governments, and much more. Also included in the budget: a big giveaway to a billionaire golf club owner. Deep in the spending bill — which was fast-tracked through the legislature, giving the advocates, the press, and lawmakers alike little time to actually read it before it was voted on — is a one-paragraph clause that provides an opening for private development in state parks. This is the latest effort to allow Paul Fireman, the billionaire founder of Reebok and owner of Liberty National, to expand his private golf club onto 22-acres of public land at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. As NJPP President Brandon McKoy told The New York Times, this is a direct result of an opaque and largely secretive budget making process: “It’s a shocking amount of lack of transparency. It’s a joke of a process. Legislators didn’t know what was in it. Staff members didn’t know what was in it.” [The New York Times / Tracey Tully]
Lawmakers balanced the three-month budget not only with broad and deep spending cuts, but also by deferring more than $2 billion in funding obligations. When lawmakers reconvene to draft a budget for the rest of the fiscal year, they will have to figure out how to fund a $951 million contribution to the public pension system, a $468 million payment to K-12 school districts, $355 million in municipal payments, and special-education aid totaling $250 million. This should underscore the need for new revenue, as lawmakers have few options beyond borrowing or more budget cuts, the latter of which should be avoided. The state could start by ending Christie-era tax breaks for wealthy families and big corporations, reforming the income tax code so the wealthiest households pay their fair share, and extending the corporate business tax surcharge. [NJ Spotlight / John Reitmeyer]
As millions protest against white supremacy and police brutality, activists and elected officials across the country are reconsidering the role of law enforcement in our communities. As Ashley Balcerzak outlines in this deep dive on police spending, New Jersey definitely has room to divert funding away from law enforcement and into expanded social services, education, overdose prevention efforts, and affordable housing — programs proven to reduce crime and promote economic security. In total, New Jersey spends approximately $3.2 billion on salaries for more than 27,000 officers and sheriff’s deputies. Meanwhile, the state only has approximately 10,000 social workers, 23,000 counselors, and 11,000 mental health and substance abuse experts. On a per capita basis, New Jersey has “more police officers and almost half the number of social workers compared with national numbers.” While expanded social services come at a cost, NJPP’s Brandon McKoy highlights that there are also costs to inaction: “Poverty is very expensive; bad health is very expensive; poor education and poor environments are very expensive. But all we do is talk about how ‘expensive’ it is to tackle these things, and that’s an unbalanced and inaccurate picture.” [NorthJersey.com / Ashley Balcerzak]
New Jersey’s paid family leave and temporary disability insurance (TDI) programs just got a lot stronger! Starting July 1, New Jersey workers can take more time off to care for a new child or sick family member. The benefit levels of these programs has also increased. These changes were recommended in a 2017 report by NJPP that found too few workers were using the family leave insurance and TDI programs, and even when they did, the benefit levels and time off were not sufficient. Workers can now take up to 12 weeks off, up from six, and workers can collect 85 percent of their weekly pay. “The increased time and duration is really important for those new mothers and fathers, because there’s a lot of research that is really revealing the importance of parents being able to spend a significant amount of time with their new babies in those early months, in terms of their long-term health and development,” said Yarrow Willman-Cole, workplace justice director for New Jersey Citizen Action. [NJ.com / Samantha Marcus]
Only one state — New Jersey — designs primary election ballots to favor candidates endorsed by the local Democratic and Republican parties, according to a new NJPP report. Here’s how it works, as explained by Julia Sass Rubin, professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and author of the report: “New Jersey primary ballots violate the rules of good ballot design and confuse and mislead voters. Rather than organizing our primary ballots around the office being sought and clearly indicating which candidates are running for each position, most counties organize the primary ballots around a slate of party-endorsed candidates. As a result, New Jersey’s primary ballots give the party-endorsed candidates an almost insurmountable advantage and enable party insiders rather than the voters to pick the winners in primary contests.” [NJ Spotlight / Colleen O’Dea]
Join us on Thursday, July 9 at 5:00 PM for the next event in NJPP’s Progress 2020 virtual speaker series: Building an Anti-Racist Budget. This discussion will feature Bill Rodgers, Chief Economist at the Heldrich Center and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director of the Kensington Corridor Trust, and Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ. NJPP President Brandon McKoy will moderate this must-see panel. Register here: [NJPP / Progress 2020]
Pets of NJPP
We have our first reader-submitted Pet of NJPP! Meet Tuna, Rachael O’Brien’s co-working cat. She is an agitator, intellect, feminist, and 5:00 AM alarm clock. While Tuna has more sass in one paw than any of us could ever hope to have, she has an impeccably high level of emotional intelligence — Rachael has yet to find a better emotional support. Tuna’s favorite sports are hide-and-seek and extreme napping (this really resonates with me). Meow!
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