Good morning, Chairwoman Pintor Marin and members of the committee. My name is Peter Chen and I am a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank focused on advancing economic, social, and racial justice. Our organization is also a member of the For The Many budget coalition.
Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony on New Jersey’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.
Affordable for Who?
We have been hearing the drumbeat on making New Jersey “affordable” but as we have noted, the question we must ask is “affordable for who?” New Jersey’s economy works best when it works for all of us. An inclusive recovery is one where we prioritize making the state affordable for those hit hardest by the pandemic — Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers, students, families, and communities in particular. That’s why it’s so important that the FY 2023 budget advances changes which make the tax code more equitable and the state more affordable for low- and moderate-income households.
NJPP has proposed a package of programs to put money back in the pockets of these families and individuals, including:
- A state-level Child Tax Credit;
- Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, both in amount and eligibility;
- Replenishment of the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund;
- Reforms to WorkFirst New Jersey that improve eligibility and benefits.
These proposals would directly support the families still fighting to make ends meet, as federal aid dries up.
And to help the middle-class and working-class New Jerseyans are struggling with skyrocketing housing costs and inflationary pressure, the state must spend the remaining $3.5 billion Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF) in ways that reflect the principles President Biden set down: to directly address the public health crisis, help the people who need it most, and reduce racial and economic inequities exposed and worsened by the ongoing pandemic.
NJPP recommends direct relief payments and hazard pay for essential workers who put their lives at risk when COVID swept through the state, health care workers who now suffer from PTSD, and child care workers who are indispensable to the workforce yet remain severely underpaid. Those individuals held up as “heroes” during the pandemic deserve actual compensation for the risks they continue to face, not lip service.
Planning for the Future
With anticipation of funding cliffs in the future, New Jersey must begin planning for the future responsibly. As the pandemic demonstrated, a hollowed-out state government and lack of financial cushion cannot effectively meet crises when they emerge.
Lawmakers should take a multi-year approach to budget-making this year to ensure the $4.5 billion surplus puts the state on solid ground once the federal aid is gone and economic activity slows. Taking this more balanced approach to state finances ensures that the next crisis does not result in cuts that disproportionately harm Black, Hispanic/Latinx and lower-income communities.
We strongly recommend making a deposit into the now-empty rainy day fund of $1.5 billion to prepare for the future.
No Giveaways for the Wealthy
The pandemic has laid bare the deep economic chasm between the wealthy and the rest of the state. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have seen their wealth balloon by 50 percent since the pandemic began. Corporate profits are up, as are home valuations. When budget proposals include giveaways to households in the top-20 percent of income, or blanket tax cuts for businesses, those benefits are going straight to the wealthy and widening the wealth gap.
Meanwhile, for low-wage workers, even modest wage growth has been swallowed by higher costs for housing and food. One in 10 New Jersey residents lives in poverty, and 1 in 3 live in an “ALICE” (Asset-Limited Income-Constrained Employed) household. Will these budget proposals benefit these populations? Or will they be further giveaways to wealthy residents and corporate shareholders?
Despite this clear gap, this legislative session is teeming with proposals on “affordability” whose benefits go to the wealthy. Business owners, residential property owners, and corporate shareholders are disproportionately white and wealthy. Without careful tailoring, benefits that go to these groups will widen, rather than narrow, the gap between haves and have-nots.
State lawmakers should prioritize making New Jersey affordable for those who need the most help — not the wealthy and well-connected.
The taxes we pay are how we work together to all chip in for our shared goals and to make sure we have what we need. But the truth is some pay less than what they truly owe, putting the burden on the rest of us. Closing corporate tax loopholes and ensuring the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share can help New Jersey both fully recover and reach its full potential.
NJPP’s set of tax credit and direct-payment proposals would ensure that the hard-working New Jerseyans who kept residents safe, healthy and cared-for during the pandemic receive the help they deserve. This budget must help the grocery worker, the home health aide, the child care teacher, and the educational support aide to find the opportunity they deserve. As you evaluate this budget, NJPP asks that you keep these folks in the front of your mind, not the wealthy.
There’s no need to overthink this. We have plenty of evidence from the pandemic that direct payments and cash assistance work to reduce poverty and food insecurity, improve family finances, and stimulate the economy.
Making New Jersey affordable for low- and moderate-income households means giving them back the money they need to find economic security for themselves and their families.
Thank you for your time and attention.