We need to refocus our efforts to ensure that we have a fairer tax system for all New Jersey residents. Property taxes keep going up, and working class families are feeling the crunch. We need to put property taxes in the context of all taxes in the State, to make sure that the wealthiest pay their fair share, while making sure that government provides essential services for all Garden State residents.
New Jersey is a state of neighbors. Towns and municipalities closely situated is part of our state’s beauty and charm. This proximity lays the perfect groundwork for New Jersey to move toward sharing services among our neighbors. In the State Senate, I will work with lawmakers to pass existing legislation that aims to rollback the size of local governments by providing tax incentives for sharing services such as police and fire departments and garbage pickups. I will also support incentives for local governments to combine duplicative services, including reducing State aid for communities unwilling to combine services.
Tax Sharing involves pooling revenues generated by taxes on property across an entire region, and distributing those revenues among all municipalities in the region. In a Tax Sharing scenario, all residents in the region share in the costs of large-scale developments. Tax Sharing endures that the fiscal benefits of development accrue to the entire region and not solely to the host municipality. Tax Sharing will remove the fiscal incentive to individually solicit development that will not benefit the larger region.
The Homestead Rebate program has been reduced and slashed under the Christie Administration. We need to work to restore this vital property tax credit and relieve the burdens of local property tax on our working class families.
“User fees” for municipal services like trash collections or street lighting has been a consequence of the 2% property tax cap. A report by the League of Municipalities found that towns are increasingly turning to user fees on such amenities as parking and recreation in order to raise revenue. In the State Senate, I will work to pass existing legislation designed to restrict “user fees” to the same 2 percent cap as property taxes.
As a State Senator, I will support increased investments for law enforcement and first responders, and will lead the fight in Trenton against the harmful cuts that force local governments to cut the budgets for police and fire departments. I believe our law enforcement officers need to have the safest and most effective equipment and technology to protect our families and communities. “Working with the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, I helped create ReLeSe, a program to help people with criminal records deal with legal matters. It helps reintegrate former offenders into their community with greater success.”
A key element to an effective criminal justice system is reforming our post-conviction policies. Studies show about 14,000 adult inmates and 1.600 juvenile offenders are released from correctional facilities in New Jersey each year. As many as 65% of the adults will be re-arrested within five years, while 37 percent of juveniles will return to correctional facilities within two years. We must address this chronic recidivism to reform our system and give these past offenders a new chance to be productive members of society.
Securing employment is the key to curbing New Jersey’s high rates of recidivism. In order to make gainful employment more attainable, I support the ‘Ban the Box’ approach favored by progressive groups nationwide. In the State Senate, I will introduce legislation that will delay employment criminal background checks until later in the hiring process, by eliminating the question on all applications seeking information on criminal and arrest record. The current approach disqualifies applicants without any further review of their application. We need to foster a process that encourages employers to focus on skills and qualifications, instead of mistakes made in the applicants past.
Initiatives that require most inmates to receive a high school education and job training while in prison can help these individuals end a cycle of recidivism. Current New Jersey law only requires inmates 18 or younger to receive a high school education. These requirement needs to be expanded to include all prisoners.
The Women Build Women Program operated out of Essex and Camden County for a number of years. This skilled-trades work opportunity initiative specifically designed for women and ex-offenders. The success rate of this program validates its approach to re-entering the rehabilitated back into the workforce. In the State Senate, I will work to secure funding to replicate this program. This program trains women and places them in long-term employment positions within the construction and environmental remediation industries.
Making it easier for the post-convicted to obtain employment by creating a restricted driver’s license and removing restrictions that prevent the post-convicted from certain employment.
I am proud to be a law professor at Seton Hall, dedicating my life to educating our young people. As an educator, I understand the ways we need to support all of our teachers, at every level, and to treat them with respect, as professionals deserving of training and professional support as they carry out their duties. For too many years, Trenton has failed to address many of the fundamental challenges facing parents as they navigate their child’s education. We need to expand investment in our schools, increase curriculum requirements, and bring real solutions to the table to address failing schools in New Jersey. Every stakeholder needs to be at the table to work through this complex issue. Education funding needs to be multi-faceted and less dependent on property taxes.
The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program was a five-year pilot program designed to increase educational opportunities for New Jersey students. Under this program, students are given an option to attend a public school outside of their district residence without any cost to their parents. Currently, funding for the 2013-14 school year and beyond is jeopardized unless the New Jersey State Legislature reauthorizes the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program.
Federal budget cuts have pushed New Jersey military families to the brink. In its wake, numerous support organizations to designed to aid military families have shuttered throughout New Jersey. As State Senator, I will introduce legislation to provide annual scholarships to children of military families to attend private, non-sectarian and non-denominational schools.
New Jersey has a poor record of keeping our best and brightest students in the State. Our State government needs to continue expanding our investment in higher education institutions to make college a reality for any New Jersey student who is interested, and ensure our economy has an educated workforce that can attract new development and businesses. We need to refocus on keeping our best students in New Jersey and incentivizing our State higher education students for our best performing students.
Addressing climate change, protecting our water supply, and reducing pollution need to be a priority of the State Senate. We need a renewed push to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce carbon emissions and protect the air we breath. Polluted rivers and waterways need to be cleaned. And natural wetlands and marshes that serve as natural flood barriers need to be protected. I am strongly opposed to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas exploration and production, and support creating tax incentives for the purchase of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The Passaic River is one of the most polluted waterways in the country. The watershed is in the most densely populated area in New Jersey – serving 3 million people. We need to protect and bring the Passaic River back to life. Dredging projects must continue throughout the entire 17 miles of the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay. Currently, only the lower 8 miles of the Lower Passaic River are slated for dredging, leaving the upper 9 miles of the river that flows through Clifton without a cleaner and more usable Lower Passaic River. Dredging would significantly improve water quality and ensure that contaminants will not create problems for future generations.
New Jersey gives millions in subsidies and corporate welfare to companies that pollute our environment. It is now the time to spend a little less to those who destroy, and give more to those who protect. In the State Senate, I will work to create tax incentives for the purchase of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Plastic bags are a threat to our environment, marine life and water quality. 2.5 million tons of plastic and paper bags end up in the oceans and landfills. 100,000 marine animals and 1 million birds die each year from plastic bags. And when plastic bags clog storm drains and fill up detention basins, water quality is jeopardized. It’s time to “pay for plastic” and in the State Senate, I will support initiatives designed to impose a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags.
We need to strengthen safe drinking water laws, not weaken them. The State Senate needs to protect our water supplies, expand the Highlands Protection Act to protect our water supplies across the State, and restrict development to protect watersheds.
Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey. Mass power outages left millions in the dark. Communities reduced to rubble, the Jersey Shore, as we know it, changed forever. Hurricane Sandy caused $36.9 billion in damage. The storm revealed that our aging infrastructure – our roads, bridges, sewage treatment plants, and utility grid are in desperate need of repair and modernization. Rebuilding is an opportunity to make our communities stronger and our infrastructure more durable. A smart approach means investing in our aging, crumbling infrastructure, implementing a comprehensive coastal management plan, mandating reform of the utility company, and taking proactive steps to protect power stations, homes and businesses from dangerous weather conditions.
New Jersey needs a consumer-based approach to make sure people are put first and utility companies are properly responding. As your State Senator, I will work with elected officials on on every level to ensure our shared constituents are getting the essential services they need in a time of an emergency.
Hurricane Sandy overwhelmed our sewage treatment plants to the point where millions of gallons of untreated waste escaped into our waterways. Now, is the time to develop a more effect wastewater management system and improve sewer systems so they are less prone to overflowing. By establishing a dedicated fund specially designed to increase funding for much-needed infrastructure projects, we can address these issues.
Now is the time for utility companies to install smart meters – meters that isolate problems and bypass them automatically and provide timely notification of when customers lose power. –in New Jersey homes and businesses. Additionally, development of a “smart” power grid – and investments in Microgrids – which operate on natural gas, wind, solar and other sources and can ensure continued operation of critical facilities when the main grid goes down, and requiring back-up generation to maintain vital services during general power outages.
Hurricane Sandy flooded 58 utility substations. When those stations are knocked out of commission, tens of thousands of customers lose power. Sandy wasn’t the first time. 14 substations were knocked out during Hurricane Irene. The time is now to put these substations in safer locations to maintain power during storms.
New Jersey cannot keep building in flood-prone areas. Many areas flooded by Hurricane Sandy were identified by the State as areas for development and growth. We can’t continue down that path of building in dangerous areas. When possible, the federal government should buy existing homes and properties and permanently designate it as open space. In addition, we must readjust and strengthen building codes to force homeowners to further elevate their structures and become more hurricane resistant.
New Jersey needs to be investing in mass transit – not canceling major mass transit projects like the ARC tunnel – as our Governor did early in his first term. Our transportation policy needs to create an environment where mass transit options are practical for New Jersey commuters. In 2004, half of the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s capital budget was dedicated to NJ Transit. In 2013 it was cut to 36%. NJ Transit can barely maintain existing services, let alone prepare for the future and expand rail lines and mass transit options. Mass transit reduces congestion and curbs greenhouse gases and can drive economic development. In the State Senate, I will target initiatives designed to make public transportation more accessible, increase investments to mass transit, bring additional convenience to commuters and to adopt smart land-use principles to the development of New Jersey Transit owned property.
Transportation accounts for approximately 35% of carbon emissions. In the State Senate, I will work to ensure that transportation investments are linked to smart land-use decisions that reduce sprawl and cutback on unnecessary travel. For example, New Jersey Transit owned property is ripe for smart development, and I’ll work to adopt a development approach on these lands that will concentrate activity centers near transit stations. The more options near transit centers, the more people will be able to use transit for some of their daily activities.
New Jersey lacks a strategic goal for increasing transit ridership. In the State Senate, I will work with transportation professionals, smart-growth experts, and commuters to craft a statewide proposal that increases users of the New Jersey mass transit system.
New Jersey’s mass transit system continues to gain ridership. Funding needs to be in line with expanded ridership, while keeping our mass transit system affordable. Investments need to be made to expand and maintain rail service throughout New Jersey.
Expanding the Newark Light Rail to other parts of Essex County – including East Orange, Orange, and Montclair – would create new economic development opportunities and reduce our dependence on automobiles. Additionally, it will open a direct link for Montclair residents to Newark Penn Station, the Prudential Center, and PATH services into Lower Manhattan.
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