Friday Facts and Figures is a weekly newsletter with data points, analysis, and commentary on the biggest policy debates in New Jersey and beyond.
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COVID-19 Cases: 293,744 | Deaths: 14,877
[New Jersey Department of Health / COVID-19 Dashboard]
Thank you to everyone who took action and contacted their representatives in support of a marijuana legalization bill that centers social and racial justice! Over the last week, state lawmakers went back to the drawing board to amend the bill to better reflect these values. As a result, Governor Murphy and Senate leaders reached an agreement on an excise fee for legal marijuana sales — but our work is far from over as the negotiations are fluid and there are still big discrepancies between the Senate and Assembly proposals. In this op-ed from the United Black Agenda (UBA), co-authored by NJPP President Brandon McKoy, New Jersey’s Black social justice leaders outline eight tangible ways the bill could be amended to ensure communities of color and those harmed by the drug war benefit from a legal cannabis industry. The recommendations include directing tax revenue from legal marijuana sales towards reparations, as well as creating an “Equity Applicant” status for cannabis cultivation licenses so people with prior cannabis-related criminal records have an opportunity to break into the new legal market. [NJ.com / United Black Agenda]
One big sticking point in the legalization bill negotiations is a proposed cap on marijuana cultivation licenses. The bill from last week set an arbitrary and incredibly low cap on licenses at 28. As NJPP President Brandon McKoy explains here, a cap that low would not only privilege large corporations and shut out equity applicants, but also drive up prices for consumers and thus lower revenue collections that would go toward communities harmed by the drug war. To avoid this, NJPP recommends eliminating the arbitrary cap and enabling the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to determine and award licenses as it sees fit, as well as exempting micro-licenses and conditional licenses from any caps so that equity candidates can truly take part in the legal market. It appears that the Senate leadership supports these changes, but it’s unclear if leaders in the Assembly do. [NJPP / Brandon McKoy]
School funding in New Jersey is back at 1994 levels, according to a new NJPP report by Mark Weber and Bruce Baker. The report, which measures school funding fairness and adequacy, finds that school funding levels have not recovered since the Great Recession, funding is less progressive than it was over a decade ago, and that school districts that spend below their adequacy targets have large shares of students of color. This endangers the future of public education in the Garden State, especially as school districts face mounting economic constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We need to start thinking now about how we’re going to fund schools now and in the future,” said Dr. Mark Weber, Special Analyst for Education Policy at NJPP. “There’s just no way this state is going to have a meaningful recovery without well-funded and vibrant schools.” [WHYY / P. Kenneth Burns]
Democratic and Republican Party leaders have made their picks for New Jersey’s redistricting commission and they do not come close to reflecting the true diversity of the Garden State. Of the ten voting members, there are only two women, no women of color, and no Latino representatives. As NJPP President Brandon McKoy writes here, this is a big problem if we want to have a government that is representative of the people. “Rather than continuing to cement a process that benefits political insiders — who are overwhelmingly white men — leaders should have taken the opportunity to include community members who could help produce a more democratic and representative outcome.” [NJPP / Brandon McKoy]
Earlier this week, NJPP was featured on BadCredit.org for our work on economic security issues and ways that public policy can help families reduce their debt. Some of the big takeaways include: tax policy can advance equity if we want it to; focusing on the “skills gap” distracts from important conversations on low wages; and consumers, not employers, drive the state’s economy. [BadCredit.org / Adam West]
Pets of NJPP
It’s been a hectic week in the New Jersey policy world, so we’re featuring two pets this Friday, courtesy of Katie Brennan and Travis Miles! Meet ocean explorer Jacques (left) and his existentialist feminist sibling Simone (right). Jacques Cousteau Briles loves the water, and he spends his days contemplating how climate change and hurricanes will impact low-income communities along the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Simone Du Beauvoir Briles believes that gender is a social construct and that “one is not born a woman, but rather, becomes one.” A lover and a fighter, she contemplates the end of toxic masculinity and the nature of infinity.
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