Broad Coalition of Advocates, Faith Leaders and Concerned New Jersey Residents Call for Movement on Progressive Priority Legislation at the “People’s State of the State”

Monday, January 14, 2019
NJ_Peoples State of the State_Photo by David Pringle

Leaders and impacted individuals urge Legislature to pass progressive policies that benefit all New Jerseyans, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

Trenton, NJ – On the eve of Governor Murphy's State of the State, a broad coalition of advocates, faith leaders, and concerned New Jersey residents held their own People's State of the State outside the State House Annex to urge the state Legislature to move on key progressive legislative priorities. In the nearly 12 months since Governor Christie left office a new Legislature has been sworn in with a larger Democratic majority, but major legislation including a $15 minimum wage, drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, environmental protections, voting rights restoration for people with convictions, and marijuana legalization, amongst others, remains stalled.

"It’s time for elected leaders to put personal gripes and politics aside and get to work passing quality legislation that will benefit New Jersey’s middle class and low-paid families,” said Brandon McKoy, Director of Government and Public Affairs, New Jersey Policy Perspective. “As we enter 2019, several critical issues remain. We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all, expand access to driver’s licenses to all residents, and ensure the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes, all of which are proven ways to boost the economy and well-being of working families. Legislators have to stop pretending eight years of austerity and disinvestment didn’t just happen and show a sense of urgency in passing legislation they have promised for years."

Last week, a state Comptroller audit found that $11 billion in tax breaks given to corporations between 2005 and 2017 by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority have generated no known economic benefits for New Jersey and its taxpayers. Meanwhile, New Jersey working families have struggled with rising costs on everything from health care to housing, while burdened with inequities that fall particularly hard on immigrants and communities of color.

“Economic justice for New Jersey families requires the immediate passage of a comprehensive and clean $15 minimum wage that doesn’t carve out the most vulnerable or turn them into second-class citizens through permanent wage discrimination,” said Marcia Marley, President of BlueWaveNJ. “It also means enforcement against wage theft and the passage of a fair budget that stops the scam of billions in corporate giveaways. It’s shameful that New Jersey authorized $11 billion in tax breaks to corporations without sufficient oversight, while delaying and watering down a minimum-wage increase that has cost low-wage workers thousands of dollars in income each year and delayed estimated benefits to more than a million New Jersey workers.”

“Just as we organized hundreds of voters across New Jersey to hold Governor Murphy accountable, and the 94 percent of Black voters who voted for him in particular, we must also hold the entire state legislature accountable in this year, said Ryan P. Haygood, President, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Each of the 80 seats in the Assembly are up for election this year. We must continue the work of building an inclusive democracy in the Garden State by restoring the right to vote to nearly 100,000 people with convictions; transforming our shameful youth justice system; and building wealth in communities of color. The lesson to take from this important moment is that people who care about social and racial justice cannot afford to be timid. The heart of our democracy is at stake.”

“New Jersey has not just a mandate, but a responsibility to demonstrate what justice looks like in action, starting with restoration of the right to vote for people with convictions and a path to marijuana legalization that puts racial justice at the forefront,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “Some rights are too important to ever lose, and the right to cast a ballot is one of them. The racial disparities embedded in our criminal justice system – as illustrated by the unequal burden borne by people of color through aggressive marijuana enforcement – make the denial of voting rights to people who are on probation, on parole, or incarcerated simply unconscionable. When it comes to ending racial inequities, there can be no half measures.”

Raising wages in NJ to a minimum of $15 for all workers will begin to address the huge income gap we have in our state,” said Rev. Sara Lilja, Director Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of New Jersey. “Income inequality is a moral issue; the wealthy in our state are doing well, but nearly 40% of New Jersey families struggle to make ends meet each month and the percentage of these workers who are families of color is alarming!  As we endeavor to make New Jersey’s economy robust, we cannot leave out, or carve out, those who are most vulnerable to the harsh consequences of poverty.”

“Every winter, my kids have to walk miles to school in the snow and cold, and my wife and I take several buses to get them to doctor's appointments because we cannot obtain a driver's license,” said Edison Hernandez of Make the Road New Jersey. “Immigrants have been under attack from the Trump administration and we need our state legislators to stand to support immigrant communities. Expanding access to drivers licenses to all qualified drivers regardless of status will help keep our families together and make New Jersey roads safer for all of us.”

"Immigrant communities have been fighting for drivers’ licenses in New Jersey for 12 years, and in that time 12 other states and D.C. have already implemented similar policies before us, including Red states like Utah and Washington,” said Johanna Calle, director of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “We were promised licenses for years, with the excuse that under Chris Christie this couldn’t happen, but with new leadership in NJ, it should. We are the third most diverse state in the nation with a supportive governor, majority support in the Assembly and Senate, and still nothing. The needs of our community are still ignored. We’ve heard legislators’ adamant statements against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies but where is the action to make sure our families and neighbors do not live in fear when they are dropping their kids off to school or just driving to work?”

“For too long, New Jersey’s marijuana laws have harmed families and communities, particularly communities of color,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites despite similar rates of use, and anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. Legalizing marijuana for adult-use without further delay is essential to help repair these wrongs, Drug Policy Alliance continues to focus on fair and equitable marijuana reform that includes policies to repair past harms to communities of color and encourage diverse participation in the industry, such as community reinvestment and expedited expungement. We are grateful for the recent changes to the bill that strengthen equity provisions, but look forward to seeing further changes before final votes in the Senate and Assembly on the bill.”

“NJ should invest in proven programs that will boost our economy, strengthen our communities and allow NJ to thrive. It’s essential that Governor Murphy and legislative leaders commit to solving our foreclosure crisis and ensure that all of or residents can afford to call NJ home”  said Staci Berger, Housing and Community Development Network of NJ.

"The number of poor and working poor in New Jersey between 2007 and 2016 increased from 29% to 38.5%, or nearly 2 out of every 5 New Jersey residents,” said Renee Koubiadis, Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey. “Unable to afford basic necessities like housing, food, transportation, and health care in our high-cost state, far too many are left without assistance to lift them up when they need it most. Our state needs to make real investments in our residents to see valuable returns in our state's economy to achieve a fairer and stronger New Jersey for all."

"When it comes to the climate crisis, the state of the state is not strong,” said Amy Goldsmith, NJ Director of Clean Water Action. “There is a direct correlation between pollution from greenhouse gas emissions, extreme weather, the destruction of people's homes, death and disease. Trenton needs to be bolder on clean energy and stop undercutting it by expanding dirty energy. Moving to clean and green will not only protect public health and private property but also grow the 'Stronger, Fairer New Jersey' economy and create the better jobs that Governor Murphy has rightfully been calling for. Trenton has to put a hold on the 12 frack gas plants, pipelines, and compressor stations and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a special focus on low income and of color communities that are disproportionately impacted by fossil fuel costs, pollution, and frontline community impacts from climate change."

“For years, business as usual has meant horsetrading in the legislature at the expense of New Jersey residents,” said Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of NJ Working Families. “The results have been exploding do nothing tax incentive programs, a tax imbalance between the wealthy and regular NJ residents and depleted coffers that impede progress and reinvestment in our communities. Expressing a vision is but one part of the equation. Action on all the critical issues advocates and legislators have repeatedly expressed support for is not only expected, but demanded this legislative cycle.”

Environmental advocates warned of New Jersey’s failure to deal with the climate crisis and the grave dangers posed by groups and companies involved in fossil projects.

“I have seen the impact of climate change up and down the Jersey Shore,” said Denise Vacarro a New Jersey Organizing Project member from Waretown. “I lost my home in Superstorm Sandy and am still impacted by the storm. My neighborhood floods along with many other areas in our state and other states.  We have to take action now and do every single thing we can to move to renewable energy. Our futures depends on it.”

“We need Governor Murphy to act now. Eight years of Christie has done tremendous damage to the culture of the NJDEP and we need you to send a message to those career professionals that you intend to steer our state back towards safety and sanity,” said Agnes Marsala, with People Over Pipelines. “Gov. Murphy can halt the Southern Reliability Link with the stroke of a pen. He can change the Chair of the Pinelands Commission, appointing someone who will let that illustrious body do the good work it was meant to do. He can declare a moratorium now, today, on all new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

"We are in the middle of a climate crisis and there has been a failure of leadership,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “New Jersey has been impacted by more severe storms, flooding, and a rising sea level. Instead of moving forward on climate change, our state is being overwhelmed by the 5 natural gas powerplant and 8 pipelines proposals. We need a moratorium of fossil projects right now. The governor and legislature need to stop balancing the budget on the back of the environment and stop raiding environmental settlement funds or critical DEP programs like the Clean Energy Fund. It’s time to let those monies go out and make our water and air cleaner and protect us from climate change.” 

"The only way to reach a 100% clean energy economy for New Jersey is to stop doubling down on our fossil fuel addiction by expanding more gas power plants and pipelines,” said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The climate science couldn't be clearer; we have limited time to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, and first step reduce to emissions is to stop expanding endless fossil fuel infrastructure projects. We strongly support Gov. Murphy's call to reach 100% clean energy by 2050 but that won't be possible if we continue to permit and build fossil fuel infrastructure. The road to climate action needs to both embrace clean, renewable energy technologies like offshore wind, energy efficiency and solar and end expansion of unnecessary fossil fuel projects foisted upon us by fossil fuel companies. We demand action on climate science to protect our most vulnerable communities The time to start ending our fossil fuel addiction is now."  


Jenny Vickers
Jerome Montes
Louis DiPaolo