Free college for all! (Except if you’re a NJ taxpayer)
If Democratic candidate for Governor gets his way in November, his first few months in office will likely be a big change for the Garden State. With a likely strong majority in both houses of the legislature his spending proposals and tax increases will likely sail through to his desk and become the new normal in New Jersey. Although if you take a critical look back over the past two terms with Republican Chris Christie, he really did foam the runway for higher taxes, new spending and more borrowing. See: Gas Tax, Question #2 and State House Renovation.
But Murphy is different. While Christie campaigned as a fiscally responsible tax cutter, Murphy is at least being honest about his plan to raise your taxes. What's worse is that he'll have the power to do it, nearly unchecked with a rubber stamp legislature counting on his massive wealth and insider connections to help them stay in power for the foreseeable future.
His latest spending place is free community college for everyone. I spent the better part of the morning discussing that there are several big problems and challenges with his plan.
The first is the cost. The expected winner of the November contest, Phil Murphy (although political predictions sometimes get it slightly wrong...See Hillary 2016) has said that it should only cost the taxpayers $400 million. Hmm, we've heard a similar number before. Remember the $38 million dollar state house renovation that over night turned into $300 million? Then the borrowing costs drove the potential cost to between $500 and $700 million? The Governor has referred to such amounts as nothing more than "rounding errors," as if to say we have plenty of money and this is only a drop in the bucket. Seems Murphy has taken the same tactic as the Governor to downplay the real problem of out-of-control, unchecked spending. Yes, $400 million is small when compared to the overall $35 billion in our state budget. But what about the tens of millions in debt? What about the $100 million plus in unfunded future liabilities? What about the fact that we're planning to borrow billions more for light rail projects? What about the fact that the gas tax is already in place to secure future borrowing, and now the Democrats are talking about raising fees on toll roads and fees?
The second issue is the focus on college as a 'one size fits all' solution. Why are we not discussing the very real opportunity of kids graduating college and getting into a trade? Electricians, plumbers, truckers, HVAC, hair stylists, food and entertainment and even jobs in the medical field are all critical elements of New Jersey's economy. You can become a Licensed Practical Nurse without a college degree. All of these professions are respected and can afford a person a good living while keeping them out of the hole of higher education debt. The practical training in a specific field may be the best way for people to make it on their own and start their careers without a burden of debt on themselves, if Murphy gets his wish, on the rest of us.
The last point is jobs. What good is it to have a degree if you can't find a job? At least in New York Governor Cuomo launched a program called Excelsior, which afforded free tuition for income eligible applicants who agreed to stay and work in state for as many years that they received education. Although I'm not in favor of these kinds of taxpayer subsidies, at least the New York Governor cut taxes to boost business expansion and hiring and helped the over burdened middle class before he launched the program. Murphy has no such public plan to alleviate the oppressive real estate tax burden and he seems poised to embrace regressive taxes like motor vehicle fees and product taxes, like on pot, which is expected to be legalized in NJ if he wins.
Maybe there's a compromise here. Spend public money as an investment in vocational training and attach a condition that the recipient has to stat in the garden state. Then create a tax incentive for people starting and maintain small businesses in order to have enough jobs for new graduates to fill. OR, maybe it's time for government to stay out of it altogether! Get government regulation and borrowing reduced so we can begin to lower taxes on the most overtaxed citizens in America.
There's hope if you vote. Don't cast a vote for any legislator who voted for the gas tax or pushed the outrageous borrowing for light rails that we don't need. Cast a thoughtful vote to make NJ affordable again. As far as the Governor's race, evaluate the candidates on what they are saying and promising as well as what they have done. Phil Murphy spent millions to win the Democratic primary. He's proposing spending millions of your money to fix the state. Ask yourself, is our state broken, indebted and failing to compete economically because we don't have free college tuition? Are we in trouble because our tolls ad taxes are too low?
Over the next few weeks ask, listen and learn. We're at a crossroads for many New Jerseyans who are facing a deadlier on their plan to exit the Garden State for less expensive areas. We have a chance to fix this state so those of us who are #DigginIn can afford to do just that. But ya gotta vote.
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