NJ business groups hosting affordability summit: ‘This state needs a plan’
Business groups organizing an upcoming Affordability Summit, under their Opportunity New Jersey coalition, say their goal is coming up with a white paper of issues and solutions for the next governor.
Among them: Please don’t shut down the government in a dispute with lawmakers.
Tom Bracken, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said gubernatorial hopefuls already had a list of urgent and chronic issues to address – state finances, job growth, an old infrastructure, a high tax burden.
The three-day partial shutdown of state government in July added another layer to it, he said.
“Last summer’s budget process and the crisis that was created with I would say an artificial situation was reputationally one of the worst things we could have had happen to our state right now and really set us back a lot,” Bracken said. “We don’t need to have those things happen again.”
At a Statehouse news conference to highlight the Sept. 18 summit, Bracken was asked if he was referencing the dysfunction that led to the shutdown itself or the underlying reason, a battle over regulating Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and potentially raiding its surplus.
“How about all of the above?” Bracken said, as New Jersey Business & Industry Association president Michele Siekerka voiced her agreement. “I mean, it was embarrassing. For me as a businessperson and as a citizen, it was embarrassing to see what happened.”
Bracken and Siekerka want a voice in helping the next governor focus on solutions to intractable problems. They worry they’re not hearing those sorts of details from Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno, who spent Wednesday trading insults about moral authority and the depth of their support for Israel.
“This state needs a plan. We need a strategic plan for this state,” Siekerka said. “And we need to put the dollars strategically where the strategy of the state is to grow. And we just, we don’t do that here. We don’t plan, and we don’t put money where strategy is.”
“The state of New Jersey is a turnaround situation. We need to address it that way. We need to have bold action, and we need to do something quickly,” Bracken said.
A 2015 summit in Atlantic City helped influence the tax package that replenished the Transportation Trust Fund, through a hike in the gas tax, as part of a plan that also cut the sales tax, the estate tax and income taxes for retirees and the working poor.
Siekerka said the state has infrastructure needs beyond those of the TTF.
“How about below the roads, where infrastructure we know a D+ at best, according to the American Association of Engineers. A D+ at best on our water infrastructure,” Siekerka said. “How about above the roads and our utilities in the state of New Jersey and our energy and our telecommunications.”
That would cost money to address. Siekerka said that’s what the state needs to think strategically.
“We may have to invest more in one area in the state of New Jersey. In doing that, we need to now look at where are the other areas where we can appropriately invest a little less without having any negative impact,” she said.
This year’s summit will be held in Somerset, at the First Baptist Church at Lincoln Gardens, where the pastor is the Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries, a former New Jersey secretary of state. Guadagno and Murphy have been invited, along with all state lawmakers.