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STAND Central New Jersey Thanks Our 2017 Heroes!

Thank you to the many people and organizations of central New Jersey that gave us hope and made us proud in 2017.

Sen. Cory Booker has consistently spoken out against GOP attempts to repeal the ACA and pass massive tax cuts for millionaires while everyday Americans bear the financial burden. He voted against the nomination of Ajit Pai as FCC Commissioner, and opposed the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality protections. Sen. Booker introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Lindsey Graham to protect the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. He has taken a stand against potential voter suppression by requesting an investigation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, and by introducing the Anti-Voter Suppression Act, which would repeal the executive order establishing the controversial commission. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, Sen. Booker introduced common sense gun safety legislation to ban bump stock accessories and require completed background checks for online gun purchases. He has been busy this year working towards criminal justice reform, with the bipartisan Sentencing Reform & Corrections Act, and with the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act. His recently introduced Environmental Justice Act of 2017 has the support of dozens of environmental justice and public health advocacy organizations. Sen. Booker has a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign, and a 98% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. Thank you, Sen. Booker!

 

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, from New Jersey’s 12th congressional district, has been busy in 2017 speaking out against attempts to repeal the ACA, pay for massive tax cuts for the rich on the backs of everyday Americans, repeal net neutrality, and impede the investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 election. She was the only NJ representative who was an original co-sponsor of the Medicare-for-All Act (HR 676) — two others have since signed on. She has twice introduced common-sense gun safety legislation that would reduce online ammunition sales, most recently after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. She has spoken out against the Williams-Transco Pipeline and the Franklin Township Gas Compressor Station, consistent with her previous efforts in writing the SAFER Pipelines Act. This year she also re-introduced legislation to end the use of for-profit prisons. Rep. Watson Coleman has 100% ratings from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Human Rights Campaign, and the League of Conservation Voters. Thank you, Rep. Watson Coleman!

 

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, of the 15th state legislative district, has stood up to protect the rights of transgender students, patients and soldiers in a year when the federal government has become increasingly hostile towards transgender people. He was a primary sponsor of S3067/A4562, which became law this summer and requires the state to create school district guidelines to support and protect transgender students. Assemb. Gusciora co-sponsored another bill that became law this year, A4568, which will prevent discrimination against transgender patients by insurers and other healthcare providers. He also introduced a resolution, AR 289, opposing President Trump’s sudden decision to ban transgender people from serving in the military. In addition, he has spoken out about the need for updates to our voting machines, and is a primary sponsor of A4619, which will require New Jersey’s voting machines to leave a paper record of every vote. Thank you, Assemb. Gusciora!

 

Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, of the 15th state legislative district, has been a leader in the campaign to get lead out of New Jersey’s drinking water. Her 2017 efforts in this fight included sponsoring a bill that actually provided funding for schools to do the water safety testing required under state law. Assemb. Muoio has also recognized our state’s urgent need for secure voting machines that leave a paper record, and was a primary sponsor of A4619, a bill that would ensure our voting machines meet that requirement. Thank you, Assemb. Muoio, and congratulations on your nomination for State Treasurer!

 

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, of the 18th state legislative district, has stood up for transgender people in a year when this vulnerable community has often been under attack and has lost important federal protections. Pinkin’s legislative work this year included primary sponsorship of A4568, which was signed into law this July. This law prevents discrimination against transgender patients by insurance companies and other healthcare providers. She has also been a primary sponsor of A4567,  a bill that would establish a statewide task force that would recommend steps to protect the civil rights of transgender people. Thank you, Assemb. Pinkin!

 

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, of the 16th state legislative district, was a voice for evidence-based policy, at the March for Science, and in the statehouse in Trenton! In a year when science and facts have been so often under attack, we are glad to have leaders like Assemb. Zwicker! He has sponsored evidence-based bills, such as A4619 (which requires the state to use secure voting machines that leave a paper record of each vote), and a slate of other bills that aim to increase the use of clean and renewable energy in New Jersey. He has also been more than willing to help new activists and concerned citizens learn about state government by appearing at STAND CNJ’s NJ Politics 101 and Burning Issues in NJ Politics events. Thank you, Assemb. Zwicker!

 

Mayors across central New Jersey responded to President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement by pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their municipalities by increasing the use of clean and renewable energy sources. The following mayors have signed on to the Climate Mayor pledge to honor and uphold the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement:

Two other central Jersey mayors have signed on to the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100% Clean Energy pledge:

  • Philip Kramer, Franklin Township, who has also joined with other elected officials urging the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to deny a permit for the PennEast pipeline
  • Bert Steinmann, Ewing

Thank you, central Jersey climate mayors!

 

Ingrid Reed, former director at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, has not let retirement get in the way of empowering New Jersey citizens. In 2017, she has helped first-time candidates and new grassroots activists figure out New Jersey state politics. Reed was a panelist at STAND CNJ’s NJ Politics 101 event, and also led a 5 part discussion-series for concerned citizens at the Princeton Public Library, among many other civic contributions this year. Thank you, Ingrid!

 

New Jersey Citizen Action has been an important guide for those of us new to activism in 2017. This statewide organization runs campaigns focused on health care, voting rights, pay equity, and the fight for $15, among others. NJ Citizen Action organized countless vigils, rallies and other events this year to protest attempts to repeal the ACA, including a weekly vigil at Rep. Leonard Lance’s offices in congressional district 7. Associate Director Dena Mottola Jaborska has shared her wisdom and experience at many events around the state for new grassroots activists, including STAND CNJ’s NJ Politics 101 event this past March, a panel discussion on “How to Fix the Broken Tax Code”, and NJPIRG’s Grassroots Organizing Conference in April. Thank you, Dena and NJ Citizen Action!

 

NJ Working Families Alliance has taught us new activists a lot this year! They have led the fight for a $15/hr minimum wage and earned sick days in various municipalities around the state. NJ Working Families has organized countless rallies and other events to protest a number of key issues, such as repealing the ACA, the terrible tax cut bill, Kim Guadagno’s race-baiting campaign attack ad, and the People’s Motorcade in Bedminster (which took place every Saturday for months!). They helped to organize the NJ Legislative Resistance Caucus, and created a 2017 WFA Platform “centered around the issue areas of tax fairness, economic justice, education, civil rights, and environmental justice…[and] key problems that perpetuate inequality across New Jersey.” They also co-sponsored the Blue 40 Town Hall series (with Action Together New Jersey and BlueWave NJ), which brought state legislative candidate forums to a number of districts in central Jersey and across the state. Thank you, NJ Working Families!

 

ACLU-NJ has been with us every step of the way in 2017, opposing the travel ban, the increase in ICE detentions of non-violent undocumented immigrants, the rescindment of DACA, and the creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity. This year, ACLU launched its nationwide People Power platform, which has provided guidance to local grassroots activists via the Freedom Cities and Let People Vote campaigns. Local People Power groups are now working all across New Jersey. ACLU-NJ also released an important report in June about racial disparities in sentencing for marijuana convictions. Thank you, ACLU!

 

New Jersey Policy Perspective has worked for 20 years to bring economic and social justice to New Jersey. Whatever problems arise, NJPP is there with data, analysis and solutions. Worried about New Jersey’s looming budget crisis? Check out their 2017 Blueprint for Economic Justice and Shared Prosperity. Worried about how the GOP tax plan will affect New Jersey? Check out their series of reports on the topic. NJPP’s staff has generously shared their expertise at numerous events this year, including STAND CNJ’s Burning Issues in NJ Politics event (featuring NJPP vice president Jon Whiten) and the How Can We Fix NJ’s Broken Tax Code panel discussion (featuring NJPP president Gordon MacInnes and senior policy analyst Sheila Reynertson). Thank you, New Jersey Policy Perspective!

 

NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice works tirelessly to protect the civil and human rights of immigrants. In 2017, they have been a leader in the Fair & Welcoming movement, inspiring and assisting local groups of concerned residents to press their town councils to adopt Fair & Welcoming policies that protect immigrant communities from racial profiling, prohibit detentions without judicial warrants, and assure immigrants that they will not be asked about their immigration status if they are accessing municipal services or reporting a crime. Participating cities and counties include: Hopewell Township, Newark, Highland Park, Morristown, Bloomfield, Maplewood, Madison, Montclair, Plainfield, Princeton, Red Bank, South Orange, Leonia, and Middlesex County. In addition, NJAIJ has organized countless rallies, vigils and other events this year to protest ICE arrests and support DACA recipients. Thank you, NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice!

 

The Star Ledger Editorial Board won our admiration this year for condemning Kim Guadagno’s campaign attack ad. When the Guadagno campaign released its misleading ad against Phil Murphy and “sanctuary cities”, the Star Ledger spoke out with a powerful editorial. Thank you, Star Ledger Editorial Board!

 

Labyrinth Books in Princeton has hosted too many important grassroots events and book talks to count in 2017, from bystander intervention training to making public comments to fixing the state budget crisis! Owners Dorothea von Moltke and Cliff Simms have generously opened up their space to several of STAND CNJ’s general meetings and special events. Thank you, Dorothea, Cliff, and everyone at Labyrinth Books!

 

Of course, this is just a partial list of the heroes of 2017. So many elected officials, fellow citizens and local organizations have won our admiration and thanks this year, and there is no way to thank them all! Keep up the good work in 2018!  THANK YOU! 

 

The Six Reasons Why You Really Need to Vote Next Tuesday

New Jersey is one week away from electing a new governor and the entire state legislature on November 7th. Don’t even think about sitting this one out! Here’s why.

1. At the state and local level, YOUR VOTES MATTER! In years when only state and local seats are up for grabs, turnout has been terribly low in NJ, ranging from 40% in 2013, 32% in 2014, and an unbelievable 22% in 2015! This means that even a small increase in turnout can have a big impact! For example, state Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker won his seat in 2015 by only 76 votes. I’ve even heard of a race for local office that was tied at 62 votes each (62 votes!), and was decided by a coin toss. Your vote literally could be the difference between defeat and victory in a local- or state-level election. SO MAKE SURE YOU VOTE!

2. New Jersey’s governor gets to appoint the state Attorney General. “So what?”, you say. Not so fast! Attorneys General can bring the Trump administration to court over over its attempts to create travel bans, halt Obamacare subsidies, rescind DACA, and get rid of environmental regulations. Do you want to fight back against travel bans and fight for healthcare, environmental protection, and Dreamers? If your answer is “yes”, then you need to GET TO THE POLLS NEXT TUESDAY AND VOTE! Our next governor will appoint an Attorney General who could join with the 22 other AGs across the country who have been at the forefront of these fights in 2017.

3. There’s a chance that our next governor will get to appoint one of our U.S. Senators! Yes, you heard me right. One of our current senators, Bob Menendez (D) is in the middle of a corruption trial. If convicted, he is likely to be voted out of the Senate sometime next year. If that happens, the person who wins the governorship next Tuesday will get to appoint a replacement. Do you want to have some say about who represents you in the Senate? Do you want a Senator who will fight for progressive values? THEN YOU BETTER VOTE NEXT TUESDAY!

4. Your votes for local races can have a big impact on the issues that progressives care about. For example: If you’re concerned about the environment, you can elect town council members and mayors who support switching over to clean energy sources for municipal buildings. You can vote for local candidates who support stormwater run-off ordinances to protect local waters. IF YOU WANT TOWN COUNCIL MEMBERS LIKE THIS, YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY VOTE FOR THEM!

5. The whole country is watching what New Jersey will do on November 7th. We are one of only two states electing new governors this year (Virginia is the other one). All eyes are on NJ and VA as politicians begin to prepare for the vitally important mid-term elections of 2018. The way we vote next Tuesday will be a referendum on the damaging agenda coming out of DC. Do you care about what is happening in the federal government right now? If so, THEN SEND A CLEAR MESSAGE WITH YOUR VOTE!

6. When you don’t vote, you give power to your opponents. Eric Liu of Citizen University says it best: “There is no such thing as not voting. Not voting is voting — to hand power to others, whose interests may be inimical to your own.” USE YOUR POWER AND VOTE ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7TH!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Can We Fix NJ’s Broken Tax Code?

Panelists from three New Jersey organizations and STAND Central NJ gathered on Monday, October 1st, to describe the economic mess New Jersey is in, explain how we got there, and provide a blueprint for getting out of it! At the heart of the solution is changing New Jersey’s tax code, which has unfortunately redistributed billions of dollars to corporations and wealthy families over the last 8 years. For the new governor and state legislature taking office next year, repairing New Jersey’s budget and fixing our tax code is of the highest priority. But elected officials can’t do it alone — grassroots groups and citizens have a vital role to play. 

L to R: Gordon McInnes; Dena Mottola Jaborska; Sheila Reynertson; Louis diPaolo; Olga Starr.

THE MESS

New Jersey’s economic woes are probably not news to you. Newspaper headlines and the daily lived experience of New Jerseyans constantly confirm their existence. NJ Transit is barely functional, college tuition costs never stop rising, property taxes are exorbitant, the state credit rating is the second lowest in the country, and the state fiscal health rating is the worst!  Our state is now a jaw-dropping $10 billion in debt. And now, we find ourselves “on a collision course between years of reckless state budgets…and everything that’s happening at the federal level”, said panelist Louis diPaolo, legislative coordinator for NJ Working Families Alliance.

Gordon McInnes

And yet, the state of New Jersey has many advantages over other states, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) president, Gordon McInnes, another panelist. Our central location between New York City and Philadelphia is unique in the country, and attracts all those who work in the city, but don’t want to live there. New Jerseyans represent a highly trained workforce. Our schools are outstanding, second only to Massachusetts. Immigrants flock to our state and benefit the state economy. Over the last 10 years, New Jersey’s economy was worth $2.4 trillion. With all of these advantages, why is New Jersey in such bad shape?

WHO MADE THE MESS?

For the last 25 years, our state’s assets “have been ignored, underfunded and almost driven to ruin” by state tax cuts that have mostly benefited the wealthy, according to policy experts at NJPP. McInnes explained how a 30% cut in the state income tax (a tax which is supposed to exist to help reduce property taxes, as per our state constitution) has led to a loss of $10 billion which could have gone to property tax relief. At around the same time said McInnes, governors and other state leaders were discovering that state pension funds “make great ATMS.”

These economic maneuvers did not benefit all New Jerseyans equally. In fact, state budgets and tax cuts disproportionately prioritized the wealthiest corporations and families in the state, and not the average New Jerseyan. diPaolo and Sheila Reynertson, senior policy analyst at NJPP, gave two examples: 1) our income tax code is regressive, with New Jerseyans who make more than $750,000 a year actually paying at a lower rate than everyone else, and 2) last year’s inherited wealth tax cut benefited only the 100 wealthiest families in the state, but costs New Jersey $500 million a year! When the state legislature has tried to make our income tax brackets more equitable by raising the highest bracket rates, Gov. Christie has vetoed their legislation.

HOW TO CLEAN UP THE MESS

NJPP has a plan: a Blueprint for Economic Justice and Shared Prosperity. The crux of this plan is fixing the tax code so that the wealthy New Jerseyans who have benefitted the most from previous tax cuts will once again pay their fair share. This is especially important at a time like the present, when income inequality is on a steep rise and the state faces severe budget problems, said Reynertson. The Blueprint recommends raising revenue in four key areas:  income taxes, the tax on inherited wealth, corporate taxes, and sales taxes.

  • Income taxes: Raising tax rates only for the top 5% of NJ families would bring in over $1 billion a year.
  • Inherited wealth tax: To restore $500 million a year to NJ’s budget, we need to restore the inherited wealth tax that was cut last year (a tax which affects only about 100 very wealthy families, or 1,000 very wealthy individuals).
  • Get rid of last year’s sales tax cut, which costs the state $600 million a year, but only saves people between 9 cents and 55 cents a day! Says Reynertson: “It’s the tax cut that no one asked for!”
  • Close corporate tax loopholes by transitioning to “combined reporting” for corporate taxes. This prevents large multi-state corporations who make money in New Jersey from paying taxes only in the state with the lowest (or even no!) corporate taxes. A switch to combined reporting would bring in about $290 million a year, and at the same time help smaller, local businesses compete.

Some people in the audience worried that raising tax revenue, especially on wealthy families and large corporations, would cause many wealthy families and businesses to leave New Jersey. Not so, said Reynertson. Research shows that a certain portion — approximately 10% — will leave, but most will stay in the location that made them wealthy in the first place. “We can afford to lose 10% when we’re gaining” revenue from 90% of those who are wealthy, she said. Similarly, the switch to “combined reporting” for corporate taxes is not expected to lead to businesses leaving NJ. Every state in the Northeast already uses combined reporting, and 92% of New Jersey’s businesses are already familiar with the practice, and consider it an ordinary part of doing business, Reynertson explained.

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Not suprisingly, NJPP’s revenue-raising suggestions are unpalatable to many current state legislators. And that’s where we come in. “We really are going to have to insist that [our new governor and state legislature] solve this problem,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “This…is really about courage.” Elected officials will need courage to advocate economic policies that put working families, and not the wealthy, first. The public gives them this courage when we speak out, contact our legislators and show up at rallies.  

STAND CNJ’s Olga Starr

Grassroots activists needs courage too, as the road ahead is going to be hard. “We have very vested interests working against us,” said Jaborska. Wealthy corporations have a disproportionate share of power — and that is why we need as many citizens to act as possible. New Jerseyans need to hold their elected officials accountable, and pull in friends and neighbors to call, email, and meet with representatives. Organizing our friends and neighbors is as simple as one conversation at a time. STAND CNJ’s own Olga Starr described the power of talking to people about their values and concerns, the core component of STAND’s recent Voting our Values initiative.  By connecting what happens in the statehouse with peoples’ values and concerns, we can turn apathetic citizens into active ones. Engaged citizens working together can counter the influence of money on unfair, regressive tax policy. As Jaborska said, “We have to build a movement around these [tax] issues.” 

To that end, New Jersey Citizen Action is urging all citizens to get in touch with the candidates for governor and state legislature and ask them if they will support the following recommendations from NJPP’s Blueprint for Economic Justice & Shared Prosperity:

  • closing corporate loopholes by implementing “combined reporting”
  • reducing tax breaks to corporations
  • raising $1 billion a year by increasing the tax rates for the wealthiest 5% of New Jerseyans
  • raising $450 million a year by restoring the estate tax for the wealthiest 4% of estates
  • legalizing and taxing marijuana
  • raising more than $600 million a year by repealing the recent state sales tax cut

You can ask candidates about these ideas through a phone call, an email, a post on their FB or Twitter page, or a conversation at a campaign event. You can even ask them via a letter-to-the-editor of your local paper. Write down their answers, then send to dena@njcitizenaction.org or to New Jersey Citizen Action, 75 Raritan Ave, Suite 200, Highland Park, NJ.

Then, stay abreast of what is going on — and what grassroots activists and citizens need to do — by signing up for email alerts from New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Policy Perspective or NJ Working Families. (or you can sign up with all three!)

If you would like to watch a recording of the “Fix NJ’s Broken Tax Code” panel, you can find it here.