NJ budget signed, but immigrant funding remains at issue
TRENTON — The 2021 state budget raises spending, taxes and borrowing – but it’s still not enough to satisfy all demands for help.
Members of immigrant advocacy groups protested outside the Trenton War Memorial where Gov. Phil Murphy signed the budget and associated tax increases Tuesday, at one point blocking the road in front of the building, because the state still hasn’t provided direct pandemic economic aid to unauthorized immigrants who aren’t eligible for federal stimulus payments or unemployment benefits.
“We’re here to demand what is rightfully ours,” said Deya Aldana, an organizer for Make the Road New Jersey. “We are here to say that we demand economic relief for everyone.”
“We’ve been called essential workers. Most immigrants also pay taxes. We pay huge amounts of taxes, and yet immigrants are excluded,” said Maneesha Kelkar, interim director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “It is time, after six months of no relief. It is time.”
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, was continuing to press the case for one-time payments to immigrants when the Legislature passed the budget last week.
“It is still months into the pandemic and several thousand New Jerseyans who pay into the state budget in millions of dollars have not received one dollar of relief in this crisis,” Ruiz said.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, were critical of Murphy’s budget for doubling to $6.2 million the amount of money being provided for legal aid for people facing deportation.
“There’s something clearly wrong here,” said Assemblyman Bob Auth, R-Bergen. “We’re taking taxpaying citizens and telling them you have to pay more, and we’re offering citizens that are here illegally and telling you we’re going to subsidize your illegal activity. I can’t understand why we could even possibly contemplate this. This is bad for the state, bad for the country.”
Inside the War Memorial, the topic of immigrant aid wasn’t raised at the bill-signing ceremony, which was capped by remarks from the Rev. Bolivar Flores, vice president of the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers.
“This budget reflects what I believe – second chance, social justice, opportunity for everyone,” Flores said.
The restoration of the millionaires tax got relatively little attention at the ceremony, too, considering it has been a goal of Murphy’s since his 2017 election and the center of near-constant debate in Trenton for about a decade – since it was allowed to lapse as scheduled at the end of 2009, with three weeks left in then-Gov. Jon Corzine’s term.
“Importantly, this budget lives up to the ideal of shared sacrifice in trying times by including meaningful tax fairness,” Murphy said. “This isn’t just achieved by reinstating the millionaires tax but also by providing direct tax relief to hundreds of thousands of middle-class and working families with children.”
The tax relief Murphy referenced is a $500 tax rebate called for as part of lowering the threshold for the 10.75% top rate from $5 million in income to $1 million. But that wouldn’t be paid until next July and is not actually in the budget Murphy signed Tuesday.
“This is a historic moment in New Jersey as our state tax code is getting a lot fairer,” said Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst for New Jersey Policy Perspective. “And for a good reason. Income inequality is at an all-time high, and for far too long lawmakers failed to address this is any meaningful way.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who resisted a millionaires tax for more than two years under Murphy after pursuing it often when Gov. Chris Christie was in office, said it’s a good budget that protects important programs.
“You can say whatever you want to say,” Sweeney said. “The pandemic hit, numbers got bad, and we made a decision to work together for the people of the state of New Jersey. Yes, we made enemies. I really don’t care. We did the right thing.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.