After weeks of talks with stakeholders, local leaders and advocacy groups, State Senate Democrats say they'll introduce a six-bill package to invest in New Jersey.

The proposals would come at a cost. State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Thorofare) said replenishing the Transportation Trust Fund — set to run out of money next year — would come at a to-be-determined cost, but the other parts of the plan would cost $174 million in the first year.

“How do you pay for it? Growth. You know, for some reason people don’t think that we can grow. Our growth has been anemic next to the nation. The nation’s growth has been averaging 5.7 percent. We’re at 3.4,” Sweeney said. “When people say ‘We can’t rely on growth,’ that’s what you have to rely on in order run a government. These are small investments.”

The first facet of the plan would be in to invest in early childhood education. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) took the lead on the initiative.

“Just one simple fact: For every dollar that we put into early childhood education we get seven dollars back in return,” Ruiz said.

Another part of the plan called for investing in higher education affordability. State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) was the point-person.

“Remember that our most valuable assets are our young people,” Cunningham said. “Where they go to college is usually where they live and we want to keep in the state and the only way that we can do that is by offering them an opportunity for a sound education.”

Part-three of the proposal called for the expansion of public-private partnerships. The chief proponent was state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield).

Improving educational and developmental outcomes for children in distressed areas through “promise neighborhoods” was also stressed by state Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson). State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) talked about the importance of retirement income protection and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) took the lead on the need to fund transportation.

“We need that (Transportation) Trust Fund to fix our crumbling roads and bridges and to expand our rail-freight network,” Weinberg said.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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