With Governor Chris Christie about to unveil his new budget, it’s a good time to reconcile the agenda items of various players in New Jersey’s policy process. Unfortunately, it appears that very few ledger entries line up.
The governor’s State of the State address last month laid out his key agenda items for the year. These include a 10% income tax cut, reform of drug sentencing laws, and education initiatives such as teacher tenure and charter school expansion. He is also pushing the recommendations of the Barer Report to merge units of the state’s higher education system, including Rutgers, Rowan, and UMDNJ.
The legislature’s agenda can be found by examining what the Democratic leadership has put on the docket this session. As we all know, same sex marriage was Priority One. Legislative leaders have also been talking about a push for a minimum wage increase and bringing back the so-called millionaires’ tax.
Hmm. There appears to be no commonality between the gubernatorial and legislative agendas. But of course, they are doing this for the good of the New Jersey so some of these items must rank high with the public. Right?
Not quite. The recent Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll asked Garden State residents to name, in their own words, the most pressing issues facing the state.
Let’s look at how some of the leaders’ agenda items stack up with the issues that occupy their constituents.
Same-sex marriage? Only 2% of the public name this as one of the state’s most important concerns.
Higher education? Just 3% say this needs to top the agenda.
Drugs and crime? That’s a priority for only 5%.
How about an income tax cut or the millionaires’ tax – those have to be important, right? Just 8% of New Jerseyans say changes to the state’s income tax needs to be on the front burner.
Public schools? Well, this one is a little higher at 20%, although it’s not clear that the governor’s specific agenda items are what these concerned residents have in mind.
So, what does top the public agenda here in New Jersey? What are the burning issues that Garden State residents want their elected leaders to tackle?
It’s no contest: Property Taxes and Jobs. Each was mentioned by a whopping 42% of those polled! And this was off the top of their heads, mind you – the poll didn’t provide choices.
To be fair, both the governor and legislature claim they have introduced proposals meant to spur job growth, although the comprehensiveness of any jobs plan is not apparent.
The disappearance of property taxes from the leadership agenda, though, is truly curious. After pushing for a toolkit of reforms in his first two years in office, the governor seems to have declared Mission Accomplished.
The Democrats have caught on to that and are trying to tag Governor Christie with dropping the ball. But that is all they have done. The legislature has a whole raft of property tax legislation from prior years – including from the ill-fated 2006 special session – that they appear to have absolutely no intention of moving through the legislature.
If you’ve paid close attention to the rhetoric out of Trenton over the past few weeks, you’ll notice that both Republicans and Democrats have ramped up the “Property Taxes & Jobs” mantra in their public statements. At least they now recognize they can’t escape the public’s demand for action on these issues.The question is whether they will put any meat on those bones by enacting an agenda in line with these goals. Or will there continue to be a disconnect between Trenton’s agenda and the rest of New Jersey?