A New New Deal Could Ignite New Jersey’s Ailing Economy

Asbury Park Press
December 26, 2008
By Louis Greenwald

The fact New Jersey is caught in the throes of an international economic recession is neither escapable nor debatable. New Jerseyans are becoming all too familiar with tighter household budgets and the specter of job loss. On a state level, a precipitous drop-off in revenues threatens the future of the programs many rely on.

To be sure, this recession is not New Jersey's creation, nor can New Jersey solve it all on its own. But there are steps we can and must take to help the state and its residents.

Already, Gov. Jon Corzine and the Legislature have moved together on a number of initiatives to provide direct assistance to the families that need it most, ensure families don't lose their homes to foreclosure and give businesses the tax breaks and incentives they need to stay open.

All are things that need to be done. But we should take a page from history and use this economy as a means to undertake critical projects that can provide jobs in the short-term while building infrastructure that can serve the state for the long term.

In a sense, we may not be at the doorstep of another Great Depression, but there's no reason we should not be embracing another New Deal. Rebuilding roads and bridges and constructing new schools can be the means for creating the leading edge of a recovery.

As a corridor state, New Jersey's economy relies heavily on our roads. However, as too many drivers know, many miles are worn down and too many bridges are in dire need of repair. Accordingly, state transportation officials recently unveiled a plan to invest $2.8 billion in comprehensive transportation infrastructure construction and improvements. We should tackle these needs now. In doing so, we not only would improve the network of roads and bridges we need to keep people, goods and the economy moving for years to come, but we can provide up to 26,000 jobs by the end of 2009.

The same urgency should be given to building and renovating schools across the state. According to the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers, the state could produce nearly 47,000 private-sector jobs, with average incomes of $54,000, with a $5.4 billion investment during the next five years. We know we need new schools to provide New Jersey's children with the education they will need to compete in the future economy. Let's make that future investment now.

Critics of infrastructure projects as economic stimulus argue that New Jersey needs instead to focus on improving its business climate. Simply provide enough tax cuts and incentives to business, they say, and the jobs will follow. New Jersey Democrats are already doing more to make New Jersey a better place for businesses. But pinning all hopes for recovery on more favorable business practices alone only partially hits the mark.

Businesses are not going to hire new workers just because they get handed an additional tax cut or incentive program. Businesses will hire new workers when consumers regain confidence and put money back into the economy.

Rejuvenating consumer demand needs to begin with providing people with a paycheck. Investing in critical infrastructure projects can put thousands of residents back to work and give them the disposable income they need to stabilize their own situations, all the while jumpstarting New Jersey's economic engine.

The current economic situation is not as dire as the Great Depression, and hopefully willnot sink to that level. However, we shouldn't wait to make public investments that can spur economic activity now and leave New Jersey a better place.

Louis Greenwald, a Democratic assemblyman from Camden County, is chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

 

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